Release Date(s)2017 (January 29, 2019)
Studio(s)Sony Pictures Classics (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
Glenn Close plays the title character in The Wife. She is Joan Castleman, married for nearly 40 years to famous author Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). Joe has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. During the week they are in Stockholm for the festivities and the award ceremony, Joan reflects on what those years have entailed, from the time Joe was her professor and she was entranced by his mind and later fell in love with him. Their lives took a familiar path – marriage, children, and literary success for Joe, all while Joan remained in the shadows.
Their story takes place in three time periods – 1958, when Joan is a college student (played by Annie Starke, Close’s real-life daughter); 1968, when Joe’s efforts at commercial publication get a rocky start; and 1992, the Nobel week in Sweden. Joan dutifully encourages, supports, and sacrifices for her narcissistic husband as his literary star rises. She is thankful but not always happy. In Stockholm, she shares his joy but is literally on the sidelines, smiling politely to people honoring her husband, standing by his side, accepting his acknowledgement of her as inspiration, and holding his coat while photos are taken.
Their son, David (Max Irons), has accompanied his parents to Stockholm. David is an aspiring writer who looks to his father for encouragement but receives only harsh criticism.
A journalist, Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), is eager to write a biography of Joe but has been rebuffed repeatedly by the author. One day when Joe is at a rehearsal for the Nobel ceremony, Nathaniel persuades Joan to have a drink with him. A couple of glasses of whisky later, he presents some of his theories about her husband’s writing. She listens, smiles politely, says she admires his research, but reveals nothing.
Jane Anderson’s screenplay, based on the novel The Wife by Meg Wolitzer, uses the multi-time-period structure to show the emotional changes in Joan as the years pass, how she regards Joe, and how the years of his success have affected her. The film is foremost a character study of a woman who has made decisions, lived by them, and now reassesses them.
Ms. Close is effective throughout, particularly in the early scenes when we see her catering to her husband’s needs big and small. She reminds him to take his pills, sets his watch, ties his bowtie, brushes crumbs out of his beard, and steps out of the spotlight when he’s in it. Director Bjorn Runge cuts frequently to close-ups of Ms. Close as Joan observes her husband, listens to compliments about his work, is shuffled here and there by the Nobel Prize officials, and half smiles. We can see all is not well and that underneath her public face, she harbors resentment.
Pryce’s Joe Castleman is arrogant, loud, officious, and often rude, and feels his status has entitled him to those vices. Despite his aloof attitude and demeanor, he loves adulation and enjoys being honored, though he even gets short of patience with the deferential treatment he receives in Stockholm.
Joe might be called a blowhard were it not for his talent. Because we see him through Joan’s eyes, he’s humanized. We understand that Joan has long accepted him for what he is. Is she simply shy of the spotlight, or are there deeper reasons for her mounting irritation as Nobel Week builds toward the culminating ceremony?
With her short grey hair and middle-aged figure, Ms. Close is physically right for the part. More to the point, she convinces us that Joan is neither a door mat nor a hopeless romantic and genuinely loves Joe after all these years. The actress delivers a complex character in a performance filled with nuances that speak volumes as we learn more about the forces that have shaped Joan’s life.
Rated R, The Wife examines the opening of old wounds in a complicated marriage. It progresses at a leisurely pace, peeling back the layers of this longtime relationship to reveal the secrets and sacrifices that form its foundation.
The All-Region Blu-ray features a 1080p High Resolution picture. Aspect ratio is 2.40:1. The color palette tends toward warm colors, particularly when compositions include Joan literally and figuratively in the shadow of her famous husband. The soundtrack is English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Dialogue is balanced well with background voices and other ambient sound. Actors deliver their lines clearly, which is important in a movie that is heavy on dialogue.
Bonus materials include a featurette of Glenn Close discussing her role in The Wife, a cast panel discussion in front of a Screen Actors Guild audience, a brief Q&A with Glenn Close and author Meg Wolitzer, and a theatrical trailer.
Keeping Secrets: Glenn Close on The Wife – Close comments about her role, “It’s always good to keep secrets.” She refers to Joan’s strength and the way in which she slips into a complicit relationship. Joan carries guilt at having chosen work over children. She is shy, self-deprecating, and eager to have Joe think well of himself. Close recalls that her mother deferred to her father their whole lives. She discusses previous roles in which the women she portrayed had to survive in a world of men.
In Conversation With the Cast of The Wife – Moderator Jenelle Riley conducts a SAG panel discussion with the cast – Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater, Annie Starke — and director Bjorn Runge. The actors are asked when they received their SAG cards and how they were approached to be in the film. They relate some anecdotes about filming. Director Runge says that, as a filmmaker, the biggest “challenge is before shooting” when he makes decisions, rehearses, and prepares so that filming goes smoothly. Close and Starke discuss the challenges of playing the young and older versions of Joan. Starke, the real-life daughter of Glenn Close, describes her thoughts when offered the role.
Q&A with Glenn Close and Author Meg Wolitzer – After a screening of The Wife (with end credits still being projected on their faces), actress Glenn Close and novelist Meg Wolitzer discuss the genesis of the book and the lengthy process of adapting the novel to film. A few questions are taken from the audience.
– Dennis Seuling