Tense and brilliantly acted, Björn Runge’s The Wife is a thoroughly immersive and ultimately rewarding experience.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
We are living in a time of burgeoning female empowerment, with lots of movies speaking up with voices that used to be silenced. Among them, The Wife stands out as one of the best, not particularly because it is about a strong woman, but because the woman realises just how strong she really is. She has spent a lifetime alone with inner demons, manhandled by stereotype, but in no way has she surrendered her feminism.
The woman is Joan Castleman, played by Glenn Close in one of her greatest performances. Joan is married to Joe (Jonathan Pryce, equally fantastic), a long-time novelist who has just won the Nobel Prize for literature. The couple, along with their adult son David (Max Irons), travel to Stockholm in preparation for the award ceremony. Joe and David don’t get along. Joe starts to flirt with the young photographer assigned to him. Christian Slater slithers in as a biographer with a thirst for the truth, no matter how damaging.
So, let’s just say there are secrets in here that need to be uncovered, and both Close and Pryce do an outstanding job at keeping those secrets buried just beneath the surface. The movie also travels back to the ‘50s, where a young Joe (Harry Lloyd), a literature professor, takes Joan (Annie Starke), his brightest student, under his wing and eventually under his sheets. “A writer must always write”, he proclaims. And so he must. But what if what he writes isn’t very good?
The Wife is all about being silenced, not by torture or physical oppression but by the fear that a patriarchal society will frown heavily upon creative women. Outside his adultery, Joe is not a bad man; he’s simply a product of his time, and since his time has been so good to him, why should he think to change it?
It would’ve been nice if the screenplay by Jane Anderson had steered away from some contrived narrative impulses, like the unexpected tragedy at the end that neatly avoids dealing with the resolution our two main characters deserve. It’s a bit of an easy escape after establishing them so richly. But there can be no mistake, The Wife is a terrific film, and each time the camera lands on Glenn Close, her face tells a thousand stories.
The Wife is available in Australian cinemas from August 2
Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution