* This review contains SPOILERS for The Wife! *
The Wife, directed by Björn Runge, initially seemed to be a pretty sedate, simple film that would for the most part engage me. But, as it went on, two towering performances from two incredible actors (Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce) slowly drew me into a film that had me completely gripped. There’s nothing particularly standout about this film (or so it seems) but when you begin to dive deeper into the film’s two lead characters and the performances from those leads intensifies in quality and depth, you’ll find yourself lost in a story that completely holds you. So, let’s explore the inner workings of this film and see if it’s one you might fancy checking out. Onto the review.
Joe Castleman – played by Jonathan Pryce – has been selected to receive the Nobel Prize for literature and he and his wife, Joan Castleman – played by Glenn Close – are obviously ecstatic about the whole thing. However, the two of them are hiding something from the rest of the world, and even their own family, and it’s a secret that has long been chipping away at the two and could now result the end of both their marriage and their careers.
I’ll be honest, when I first saw the trailer for The Wife, I didn’t have much desire to see it. I felt the trailer gave away an integral element of the plot and that it didn’t make seeing the film that necessary (that being the revelation that Joan actually wrote all of the acclaimed novels that Joe was receiving the award for and his input was minimal at best).
It was partly because there was nothing else to see at the cinema (due to either already having seen more desirable films or there not being anything I could mentally stomach) and also that I had the urge to go to the cinema and disappear into the world of a film, that I found myself sitting seeing The Wife. I now look back thankful that I left my flat that day and went and saw this film.
Above everything else in this film are two astounding performances from Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce. They make this film what it is; they had me utterly gripped by their every word, their every emotion, their every inter-relationship moment that felt honest and powerful. They both endeared me deeper into the film with their charming and believable marriage and also were characteristically intriguing as individuals, and that’s how I want to break down and explore them: as a married couple and as individuals.
Joe and Joan are lovely together. The first time they appear on-screen together, it’s truly as if they’ve been together for many long happy years – and a lot of that is of course down to the chemistry and bond between Jonathan Pryce and Glenn Close. There’s something so pleasant and warming about watching the characters together. The little unique points of bantering and playful jabs help to show how long-lasting and still fun-filled the connection between the two of them is, but also the moments of serious conflict aid in this as well. They both know one another very well, and so are able to aim for the emotional jugular when arguments flair; later on in the film when their marriage is being truly tested, the words they hurl at each other are cruel and untamed. This all builds into expanding our knowledge and connection to them and aids in painting a full picture of two people, rather than just the highlights.
And as individuals, both characters were infinitely layered and fascinating to visually read. It’s here I feel I can talk both about the characters and the actors that play them, as they are of course intensely linked.
Much of my watching of Joe and Joan was not only about how they spoke and the words they very deliberately chose, but the mannerisms; the subtle facial cues that clued me into dialogue with multiple meanings or back-handed compliments. And these are achieved by the great work from Jonathan Pryce and Glenn Close.
It’s Glenn Close in particular who captured my attention and that’s because the character of Joan is a quiet, calculated individual who chooses her words very carefully and often hides her true feelings in minor facial tics. None of this would be the case without the brilliantly subdued work by Glenn Close who approached her performance with grace and poise. Watching as she played Joan with unyielding strength; where she would have the character do or say the most powerful of lines of dialogue, all while playing things very close to the chest. I don’t say this lightly, but I think Close’s performance might be one of my favourite understated ones of the year. There was so much about it that captured my attention.
But that’s not to take anything away from Jonathan Pryce who performs to the same height and quality of his co-star. Joe is a very different character from Joan. He’s much louder and more brutish. He likes to control a rooms attention; to have all eyes and ears focused on him. When he wants to show his love, he’s very overt about it. When he wants to hurt, his words are harsher and filled with the intent to injure. Pryce dives gleefully into the character and has you both loving him and despising him at the same time. When his comeuppance came at the end of the film, I was both saddened and relived (for Joan) at the same time.
It is these two characters and these two actors, why I was so invested in this film – I was completely lost (and happy to be) in the brilliance and infinite depths of them all. Perhaps the only issue that came from the characters was in the flashbacks that explored their initial meeting and the forming of their deceitful plans. The issue was that not only were the scenes poorly acted by two younger actors who just didn’t have the calibre of talent to compare to their older counterparts, but it also took away from the more interesting parts of the film. While I can see why these scenes were somewhat necessary, I would have preferred they either been cut or significantly lessened.
And that ties into my other very minor issue with the film and that is that it gives a definitive answer to the actions of Joe and Joan, rather than keep it a mystery. I think it would have been far more effective had they not outright said that Joan was the author of all the books and not Joe. It would have been far more interesting had we the audience been left to guess for ourselves. It would have caused me to think deeper and longer about all the possible hints laid out during the film, and in general, having a mystery to decipher for yourself is in my mind always more engaging.
But despite that, The Wife was a film that fully engrossed me – even with me knowing a significant part to the plot. And it’s all down to the two lead characters and the actors who so brilliantly brought them to life. I know this film will probably pass many by and these performances won’t get much recognition going forward, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that they are incredible – certainly two of my favourites this year!
So yes, I absolutely recommend, The Wife. Please make the effort to go see this film; to go support this film. It deserves it. I hope that if you do/have seen The Wife, that you had as enjoyable a time with it as I did. Until the next time, happy movie watching.
I’d love to know what your thoughts are on The Wife and my review of it, so please leave any thoughts or opinions you may have in the comments section down below. Liked what you read and would be interested in stopping by to read more? Then please consider following both/either my blog and/or my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – to help me grow this into more than it currently is. But I’ll stop bothering you now with my ramblings and instead leave you with my heartfelt thanks for taking the time to read my review. Thank you and have a wonderful day!