Joan Castleman is a highly intelligent and still-striking beauty -- the perfect devoted wife. She has spent 40 years sacrificing her own talent, dreams and ambitions to fan the flames of her charismatic husband and his skyrocketing literary career, ignoring his infidelities and excuses because of his art with grace and humour. Their fateful pact has built a marriage upon uneven compromises, and Joan has reached her breaking point.
Like most of the younger generations, you could say I am quite the fan of the Game Of Thrones TV series. So I instantly recognised Jonathan Pryce from his role as the High Sparrow from the show. That was all it took to really get me interested in the film. As of writing this review, The Wife currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 100% from it's "Approved Critics", though it's actual score is more towards 78%, in line with Metacritic, and 69% on IMDb. What that instantly tells you is that this must be an intellectual film. We all know approved critics will scrutinize every minute detail, while other reviewers will judge on more face-value and entertainment values.
The film has a reasonably simple premise. It follows the wife of an author who has just won a Nobel Prize in Literature. A woman who is suddenly thrown into the limelight, and has her entire history with her husband dredged up; every infidelity, every argument, every excuse, every secret. There is a mix of love and resentment, towards the husband, and the patriarchal world of old, that has suppressed her own hopes and dreams. These factors are magnified thanks to the presence of their son, who struggles with both living in the shadow of his father's achievements and the reporter that wants to uncover any hidden secrets that the couple have.
It is an interesting story that is attacked from multiple angles. like a rubber band ball that is being cut in various places, unravelling and revealing new omitted information with each layer. The writing of the story is well done. The story follows an elderly couple (both Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce are 71 in real life), so a lot of their interactions involve sleeping, eating, and trying to look after their health. Despite this limited amount of space and environments, there is still so much secrecy going on. The confidence of the characters is surprising.
Glenn Close does a brilliant job as Joan Castleman. A calm, collected, almost regal personality, as things unravel, you can see how she is pushed closer to the edge with every turn, and her efforts to steady the ship and maintain the fragile equilibrium. She doesn't need to do what she does, a series of flashbacks explain why that is so, and why she battles with her decisions every day.
While an interesting watch, the film is held together by Close's acting. Pryce doesn't really have any great pull in the film (and similarities between his portrayal of John Castleman and High Sparrow highlights his limited acting range), Max Irons portrayal of the son David Castleman, reminds me of Tobey Maguire's Spiderman movies, with an adult trying to play a high school student. In this case, while Irons is playing an adult, his personality is that of a mopey teenager and doesn't match with the parents' personalities at all. Christian Slater's portrayal of the reporter Nathaniel Bone is suitably annoying, as you would expect a pestering reporter to be, but could have been done by anyone else to the same effect.
The film has many of the tropes; 'Behind every successful man is a woman', the neglected child, the unfaithful artist, misdirected accolades, a woman held back because she is a woman, and all of these ideas are intertwined quite well. This is definitely Glenn Close's film, and while it has a few reversals thrown in to keep the audience guessing, without any decent supporting cast, it's not a movie you would watch again. Once is enough.
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