“A writer has to write.”
“A writer has to be read.”
A phone call in the middle of the night often means bad news, but a call from Sweden delivers just the opposite. Longtime novelist Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) has won the 1992 Nobel Prize in literature. His wife, Joan (Glenn Close), races to pick up an extension, to hear the good news herself. The two are soon jumping on their bed, with Joe singing, “I won the Nobel!” Joan breaks off the celebration, obviously rattled. We won’t learn why until much later.
The house soon fills with well wishers, sipping Champagne and toasting Joe’s success. Joan stands with the two Castleman children, son David (Max Irons), an aspiring writer himself, and daughter, a very pregnant Susanna (Alix Wilton Regan), as they listen while Joe expresses his appreciation, saving his wife for last. Rather than be pleased with his effusive praise, Joan seems annoyed and, when they arrive in Sweden, she pointedly tells him not to mention her in his acceptance speech.
Glenn Close, Max Irons, and Jonathan Pryce
If we begin to suspect why Joan is conflicted, flashbacks begin to fill in the blanks. At Smith College, a younger Joan (played by Close’s daughter Annie Starke), meets with her professor (Harry Lloyd playing the younger Joe), who critiques her short story. This brief encounter provides insight (although with a subtle touch), that Joe doesn’t grasp what Joan has managed to convey in her story. She seems surprised by his comments, but, hey, he’s a man and the teacher. He must be right.
The young Joan attends a reading by a Smith graduate, Elaine Mozell, played by Elizabeth McGovern. If Joan expects to be encouraged by another woman writer, the opposite happens. Elaine plucks a book off the shelf behind her that creaks when she opens it. Pointing out that her novel sold less than 1,000 copies, most to friends and family, Elaine advises Joan not to count on a career in writing. Quite simply, Elaine says, books written by women don’t sell. (Thus the quotes by Joan and then Elaine, at the top.)
The student-teacher relationship evolves, with Joe eventually leaving his wife, Carol, for Joan. Once Joe and Joan are a team, his books take off. The Nobel Prize seems like a forgone conclusion.
The fly in the ointment is Nathaniel Bone (a terrifically smooth Christian Slater), who has been signed to write a biography of Castleman. Joe and Nathaniel have obviously locked horns before, and Joe continues to push back aggressively on any approach by Bone. There have been rumors about Joe’s many affairs, but Bone is after a more explosive theme for his book and he will stop at nothing – having drinks with Joan and befriending David in a bar – to get to the truth. While we can guess the secrets behind Joe and Joan’s relationship early on, we still are on the edge of our seats waiting to see how this family drama will play out.
Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce
The Wife is a mutli-layered film. At the heart is a story about marriage and what people give up or demand in the name of love. But this is also a film about writers, how talent is bestowed on some and eludes others.
There is already Oscar buzz about Close’s performance. She has been nominated six times and has never won. But reducing achievements to a golden statue, I believe, diminishes an actor’s achievements. This performance is certainly worth praise, but whether she wins or not, Close does what she always does – gets under the skin of the person she brings to the screen, making that character real and memorable.
Photos Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Top Photo: Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce