As a reviewer, I have watched several shows recently from which a lot of the merit comes from the plot. I don’t mean to say that this makes The Wife one dimensional, because it is miles away from being that, but that the achievements of the film in terms of the quality of acting, for example, are only fully appreciable in the context of the production as a whole. This is unfortunate in a way, because there is a lot I would have loved to discuss and pick apart in this review, but can’t because of spoilers. I hope you'll be sufficiently intrigued to go and find out for yourself instead!
I can’t fully comment on how well the film has been adapted from Meg Wolitzer’s novel, not having read it (although it is now very firmly at the top of my list!), but it certainly felt masterful, because the storytelling was deeply literary: multifaceted, cleverly structured and rich. Like a classic novel, the film uses symbolism and double meanings to hint at what is to come, transforming it from the purportedly straightforward story we see in the trailer, of Joan Castleman (Glenn Close), who has sacrificed her own career to allow her husband Joseph (Jonathan Pryce) to flourish. At first, Joan appears to hold no bitterness about this, but becomes progressively apparent just how narcissistic and selfish Joseph really is, coming to a head in a climactic scene which I found genuinely heartbreaking, to the point of tears.
While the script and direction played a large part in the emotion of the film, the stand-out factor was Close’s star turn. Her performance is so convincingly personal that I felt deeply invested in the character, and not for the obvious reason that I’m an indignant feminist woman in a society that hasn’t changed all that much since the film was set. Indeed, at times I was so engrossed and enraged on Joan’s behalf that I forgot that the story was about more than this one fictional relationship, but about the hugely unjust consequences of patriarchy - such was Close’s ability to draw one in.
Eventually, we learn how complicit Joan is in her situation, which makes the acting even more impressive and adds a complexity which left me very emotionally conflicted. It is not difficult to see why Close is hot-tipped to win an Oscar, which almost feels like a redemption for the storyline: an older woman being duly recognised by youth-obsessed Hollywood purely on the basis of her skill is anathema to Joan’s experience, and feels like progress.
This film is not quite perfect, which is barely a criticism. At times, the score was a bit clumsy, particularly when rather obvious ‘treachery’ music played in the background of one of Joseph’s so-called indiscretions, which made them feel a little predictable. Another issue was Max Irons’ (the Castlemans’ son David) dodgy American accent which cracked a little during an intense scene. It would be irresponsible not to mention that, very unfortunately for a film that has a universal appeal, the cast was entirely white. Given the time frame and the setting, which includes the 1950s during the flashbacks, this is not entirely surprising, and one of the most striking images in the film is the gathered Nobel winners forming a sea of old, white, male faces - yet there were missed opportunities to include a more diverse supporting cast.I sincerely hope this lack of representation won’t put people of colour off this must-see film.