Up Close and personal
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.