Wife, The (U.K./Sweden/U.S.A., 2017)

September 01, 2018
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Wife, The Poster

Watching The Wife, I was reminded of how movies used to be. Back in the 1990s, something like this would have been common: an engaging story anchored by two powerful performances. Glenn Close is as good as she has ever been (although I would point to Dangerous Liaisons as her most ferocious performance; some might argue for Fatal Attraction) and Jonathan Pryce is a perfect foil. These two make beautiful music together even as their characters’ relationship collapses into a discordant, cacophonous mess. There’s an element of mystery here that comes out part as a result of a journalist’s prodding and part through a series of flashbacks. There’s nothing momentous about The Wife but it functions equally effectively as a character-based drama and an allegorical statement about the power dynamic between men and women in pre-21st century marriages.

It would be as foolish to dismiss the sociological implications of The Wife as it would be to overplay them. The movie makes an unambiguous statement not only about how the cliché of the “long-suffering spouse” grates on the title character but about how wives (especially – but not exclusively – those of high-profile men) often had to adopt a stiff-upper lip/stand-by-your-man attitude (at least in public) in order to preserve not only their husband’s reputation but their own dignity. But, to quote Network, Joan Castleman (Close) is mad as hell and she’s not going to take it anymore. Watching Joan, who starts out like any 60-ish woman married for decades to a luminary, slowly melt down in what her husband rightly recognizes as a stew of resentment, is as pure an act of forceful acting as one is likely to find. Swedish director Björn Runge didn’t have to do anything more complicated than point the camera at Close and let her do what she’s best at.