Up Close and per­sonal

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - CULTURE - By Da­mon Smith

The mer­cu­rial Glenn Close makes a com­pelling bid for her sev­enth Os­car nom­i­na­tion in the ti­tle role of direc­tor Bjorn Runge’s slow-burn­ing drama adapted from the novel by Meg Wolitzer. Os­cil­lat­ing be­tween two time frames, The Wife is a metic­u­lously con­structed char­ac­ter study, which ex­poses the steely re­solve and in­dig­na­tion of a woman who has hon­oured her wed­ding vows to a man with a rov­ing eye and an in­sa­tiable hunger for recog­ni­tion.

“There’s noth­ing more dan­ger­ous than a writer whose feel­ings have been hurt,” ob­serves Close’s du­ti­ful spouse, a ca­sual aside which res­onates with in­creas­ing fe­roc­ity as the plot un­rav­els and dark se­crets are un­earthed.

Ev­ery­thing we need to know about the cen­tral cou­ple’s mar­riage seems to be en­cap­su­lated in an open­ing bed­room scene. Close wearily fends off her hus­band as he ex­er­cises his early morn­ing con­ju­gal rights.

“You don’t have to do any­thing, just lie there,” he tells her, fo­cused solely on per­sonal grat­i­fi­ca­tion.

The en­dur­ing plea­sure of Runge’s film, filmed in a Glas­gow doub­ing for Stock­holm, is wit­ness­ing the bal­ance of power shift be­tween the well-drawn char­ac­ters, build­ing to a daz­zling ex­plo­sion of ver­bal fire­works that makes sense of throw­away com­ments and ges­tures that have tan­ta­lised us un­til this turn­ing point.

In 1992 Con­necti­cut, cel­e­brated writer Joe Castle­man (Jonathan Pryce) re­ceives a tele­phone call from Stock­holm to con­firm he has been se­lected as this year’s re­cip­i­ent of the No­bel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture.

Joe’s wife Joan (Close) cel­e­brates with her spouse yet there is un­spo­ken ten­sion.

The Castle­mans travel to Swe­den on Con­corde and mid-flight, they are pestered by muck-rak­ing jour­nal­ist Nathaniel Bone (Chris­tian Slater), who is keen to pen a bi­og­ra­phy on Joe and hopes that he can get to his un­will­ing sub­ject via Joan.

Nathaniel slyly re­peats toxic tit­tle tat­tle about the cou­ple’s re­la­tion­ship to get a rise from Joan.

“If you’re trolling for nuggets of bit­ter­ness here, you’ll find none,” she coolly re­bukes the hack.

While she fends off Nathaniel’s un­wel­come over­tures, Joan also acts as peace­maker be­tween Joe and their son David (Max Irons), a writer des­per­ate for his fa­ther’s ap­proval.

As the prize cer­e­mony ap­proaches, flash­backs to 1958 Mass­a­chu­setts re­veal the ori­gins of the Castle­mans’ re­la­tion­ship at a women’s lib­eral arts col­lege where Joan (An­nie Starke) is a naive stu­dent and Joe (Harry Lloyd) is her mar­ried tu­tor, who in­tends her to be more than his babysit­ter.

The Wife is draped el­e­gantly around Close and her deeply mov­ing per­for­mance.

Pryce por­trays a boor with gusto and he sparks fiery on-screen chem­istry with Irons as the prodi­gal son, whose self-be­lief can be un­der­mined by a sin­gle laser-guided word of crit­i­cism from his old man.

By the in­cen­di­ary fi­nal frames of Runge’s sat­is­fy­ing film, the younger Castle­man dis­cov­ers that he has been for­lornly search­ing for val­i­da­tion in the wrong place.

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