It is safe to say that telling a compelling story is not what director Björn Runge considered to be of paramount importance while directing The Wife. Instead, he is enamoured with his lead and who could blame him. Glenn Close stars as Joan Castleman, the long-married spouse of acclaimed writer Joe Castleman (the ever fantastic Jonathan Pryce) who has just been informed that he will be receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature. Close gives one of the most captivating performances of her career as she does so much with so little. The couple travel to Stockholm for the ceremony with their son, David (Max Irons) where family secrets begin to slip out and a decades’ long scandal begins to take shape around the Castleman marriage. I will not divulge any specifics as to what that could entail but I have to confess within 20 minutes, the revelations become extremely obvious. Predictability is not always a bad thing, often it’s the journey that provides the thrills to a story. Unfortunately, though, The Wife suffers from glacial pacing to the point where a sentence or two more of plot description would have to involve the film’s climax.
Luckily where the film falters on the script, it makes up in performances and Close truly is magnificent. Runge knows full well the kind of talent he has here as he will often let the camera linger on her face, just watching as she cycles through numerous little micro expressions. Joe is a restrictive woman, she will never exhibit any sudden emotion of anger or distress and instead represents these feelings through the slight twitch of her smile, a raised eyebrow or a well-timed shift in gaze. There is no doubt in my mind that this film is designed as a vehicle for Glenn Close to win an overdue Academy Award and I certainly feel she will be nominated at the very least (if she does the score the nomination, it will be for the seventh time).
Not to be overlooked is Jonathan Pryce, who matches Close at every opportunity, Joe is a complex and ultimately tragic picture of a man who has never truly been in control of his destiny and Pryce doesn’t hold back. My only criticism for his performance would be that his Boston accent leaves a lot to be desired in that only half the time he manages to keep it up. Other notable performances include Christian Slater as an intrusive biographer and Glenn Close’s own daughter; Annie Starke as a younger version of her mother’s character.
Thinking back on it now, I honestly think The Wife should have been a play, a great deal of the runtime is just passive conversations between any two characters and as the dialogue isn’t exactly gripping enough to keep people on the edge of their seats it would perhaps have been more engaging to see what the actors could do with their roles while on stage.
Runge’s direction is perfectly competent but he fails to bring anything unique to the story, it doesn’t overstay its welcome but as a film that has something to say… when you can work out what it’s trying to say within the first act, is it worth saying at all? You will have to rely on the impeccable performances from its cast, in particular, the extraordinarily versatile Glenn Close, to hold your interest for the full 140-minute runtime and I will say that they did manage to do that at the very least.