In every couple there is the potential for an imbalance of power, partly because of the fact that one partner (the woman) belongs to a group that has been, as it were, hidden from history. Things have changed in the last hundred years or so, but it may not feel like that on the ground. In Bjorn Runge’s finely-crafted The Wife this essentially feminist territory becomes fertile ground for an examination of a marriage. It should be noted that, although the film has a male director, the screenplay is by a woman (Jane Anderson) adapted from a novel by a woman (Meg Wolitzer). And what a script it is too. It smoulders and crackles and every now and then, when required, it blazes.
Joe Castleman (the evergreen Jonathan Pryce) is a world-renowned author who has finally been awarded the Nobel Prize that everyone thinks he deserves. We join the story just as Joe and his wife Joan (Glenn Close) are heading to Norway to receive the iconic prize. The couple’s relationship is perfectly sketched in. We get the sense of how these two have come to their various accommodations, but, more than that, we also get what works for them in their marriage; the little jokes and the small familiar comforts of a lifelong partnership. Only at the very edges do we sense what might be the chafing points.
Given the great script, it is not surprising that the leads jumped at this. Pryce is an actor’s actor from way back and he is completely believable as the clever-but-stupid Joe who arrogantly takes his success for granted whilst pretending not to. Close is the revelation. Although she was tipped for greatness in the 1980s, she has often had underwhelming material to work with. Here, she is both subtle and deceptively intense. Acting awards will follow. An honourable mention for Christian Slater. He is often a slightly off-key kind of presence, but he makes a great contribution this time as the creepy journalist who wants to dig too deeply into the couple’s marriage.
All in all, it is a small film but one of considerable power. The ending is telescoped but the slow unravelling before it is both believable and gripping.