Director: Björn Runge
Screenwriter: Jane Anderson, based on the eponymous novel by Meg Wolitzer
Runtime: 100 mins.
Australian release date: 2 August 2018
Previewed at: Dendy Newtown, Sydney, on 17 July 2018.
In the current social and cultural climate it’s interesting to see that the female voice is being heard like never before, particularly with the recent crop of films on release in Australia. Björn Runge’s The Wife, based on Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 eponymous novel, adds to the list - it is a powerful tale of a 40-year journey of self-deception and the submissive devotion of a strong woman to a weak man. It is often said that behind every great man there is a greater woman and, in this case, it’s a man who’s ridden roughshod over his spouse both mentally and emotionally for years, a husband who has taken advantage of his wife throughout their marriage.
Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) is a New York writer at the top of his game. When we first meet him he is about to hop on a plane to Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, accompanied by his wife, Joan (Glenn Close), an elegant, serene woman who appears to dote on him. Also with them is their adult son David (Max Irons), who has literary ambitions and wants to emulate his father. During the flight, a self-assured writer and would-be biographer, Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), approaches the couple in an attempt to secure Joe’s blessing for his planned biography of him but he’s rudely dismissed by the author, who regards him as an intrusive nuisance. As the film progresses, we learn more about the Castlemans in flashbacks that disclose their initial meeting at college and the profound influence young Joan (played by Close’s real-life daughter Annie Starke) had on her husband’s early writing efforts (Harry Lloyd plays the youthful Joe). Joan was a writer herself but, in one pointedly pertinent scene, Elaine Mozell (Elizabeth McGovern), a contemporary writer who self-publishes her work, warns her of the impossible challenges a woman faces in the literary world. Elaine advises her in no uncertain terms to give up any idea of entering the impenetrable, masculine circle of publishing, in which all the decisions are made by men who refuse to accept that there’s a market for books by women. It’s a lesson Joan takes to heart and one that will affect her entire married life.
The Wife is a riveting exposé of a marriage and Jane Anderson’s screenplay is a wonderful adaptation of the original novel. The drama is intensely portrayed by the use of cinematographer Ulf Brantås’s close-ups that reveal the stressed emotions surrounding this formidable couple. It is painful to witness Joan's unquestioning devotion being ripped apart when she finally addresses the truth and confronts her own self-denial. Pryce and Close are the beating heart of this story and the performances are extraordinary. As the director put it, "For me, this film is like music; two instruments that play for us. The way that Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce act reminds me of music - like two solo instruments playing together. Whilst editing, it was impossible for me to detach the story from their acting. They had the ability to incorporate the script into their acting, in a way that was deeply fascinating. It's not just a plot-driven story.”
The Wife is superb cinema on every level and it’s rightly regarded as Close’s best performance to date, having been described elsewhere as “exquisite”, “extraordinary”, “smart and supremely watchable”; Oscar material in fact - she is simply mesmerizing.