The Wife

Academy Award Nominee – Best Actress

Glenn Close is a tremendous actress. That shouldn’t be news to anyone, but if there were still any doubt, her performance in Björn Runge’s The Wife erases any remaining room for it. As the supportive yet secretive spouse of an acclaimed writer dealing with some old anxieties in the days before he accepts the Nobel Prize, the veteran actress is a marvel of twisty understatement, delivering emotions that conceal as much as they reveal.

Poster for The Wife, a drama starring Glenn Close and Jonathan PryceSet in 1992, we first see Close as Joan Castleman in bed with her novelist husband, Joe (Jonathan Pryce), who is scarfing down sweets to compensate for his nervousness on the night before the Nobel honorees are announced. The next morning, the news is exactly what they’d hoped for, and the following days are a blur of celebratory dinners and plans for their upcoming trip to Sweden. Their relationship is well sketched: Joe the absent-minded man of letters who is all too eager to bask in the glow of recognition, Joan the regally composed wife who keeps the trains running on time, yet seems less than eager to play the silent smiling spouse as her husband makes toasts in her honour.

There are plenty of such toasts in store for her in Stockholm, and the couple take their adult son David (Max Irons), also an aspiring writer, along for the trip. The family is trailed by an unwelcome guest in Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), a relentlessly insinuating journalist who is dead-set on composing Joe’s biography, whether he participates or not.

We begin to see why the Castlemans might not want a pushy interloper prying into their lives, as Joe takes a shine to the pretty young photographer (Karin Franz Korlof) assigned to shadow him in Sweden, and Joan gives the sort of frosty sigh that suggests she’s seen this scenario play out before. But there’s much more to their story, and flashbacks to the couple in the 1960s – back when he was a married creative writing professor, and she was his eager student – start to fill in those gaps.

The Wife is Close’s film from start to finish. In support, Pryce erases the line between doddering lion in winter and pathetic old wretch as the story progresses, and Slater shares a charged, slyly flirtatious drink with Close that gives the film its brightest spark. As a casual conversation becomes an impromptu interview, Slater jabs while Close bobs and weaves, their tête-à-tête seeming evenly matched until Close begins to unveil, piece by piece, just how much intelligence and savvy her character has been holding in reserve the whole time. It’s a great scene, and the centerpiece of a great performance.

– Andrew Barker, Variety

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