The Wife, directed by Björn Runge and starring Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce, is a story about Joan Archer, the wife of Nobel Prize in Literature recipient Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). Glenn Close, as the eponymous “Wife” proves to be the most stunning and transcendent feature of the film.
As opposed to Frances McDormand’s explosive performance last year which won her an Oscar, Glenn Close in The Wife portrays a collected and internal character. Joan Archer has a very conflicting personality. She is regularly shunned aside as “the wife”, both publicly and domestically. “I am a kingmaker,” she says without hesitation. She never doubted her own ability and she knows that her husband will never have a career without her, and she wants to be recognised for that (“Everyone needs approval,” she tells her husband). However, at the same time, her love and respect for her spouse becomes an obstacle for her. When Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), the journalist who keeps trying to persuade Joan to let him write about her husband’s fraudulence, she firmly forbids him. This may be testament to her unwavering respect for her husband’s legacy, or she simply does not want to be in the spotlight. In any case, she struggles to gain the approval she does not know she needed until her husband gets a Nobel Prize. Glenn Close delivers this dissonance of emotion very clearly through a calm facade. And that’s the brilliance of her performance, because despite all the suppressed emotions, the audience never fails to understand her. Her presence is like waves which grow in magnitude as the film progresses until it builds up into a tsunami and all the suppressed energy is released volcanically in an emotional and absolutely enthralling finale.
That is not to undermine the rest of the cast and crew. Jonathan Pryce is great as the narcissistic husband, and Max Irons, who plays the son of Joseph Castleman, portraying an aspiring writer with desperate need of a father’s approval with quite some shining moments. Together, the entire cast’s performances create a very engaging chemistry which successfully carries the film through its slower and more dragging parts.
In terms of the direction, for me, the camera is mostly a relatively passive and conservative presence, which in my opinion augments the performances and captivation of the film. Especially at times when the story seems to wander a bit, putting Glenn Close at the dead centre of the frame is a very correct choice. Because her dedication to the character and meticulous performance alone is enough to provide the film a burst of momentum for it to hit its final high mark.