Opening 3 Jan 2019
It’s 1992 in Connecticut, USA, and successful author Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) receives a long-distance phone call from the Nobel Prize committee in Sweden. He will receive the Nobel Prize for Literature and should make his way to Stockholm to receive it personally. Which he does, accompanied by his wife Joan (Glenn Close), and unexpectedly, his son David (Max Irons). On the flight over they realize they are sharing a plane with another author, Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), who manipulates every opportunity to talk with them; he is determined to write a biography of Joe, and perhaps Joan, and gives the impression that he could influence the eventual reader’s opinion if they don’t cooperate. As the story continues in Stockholm, we catch up on family history in flashbacks beginning in 1958, when Joan is a young student in Smith College; Joe is her professor and interested in writing, taking it so far as to write words on walnuts. Writing is a topic they discuss, and which Joan strives to perfect. He is married with a child, but has a casual relationship to marriage and considers an occasional affair part of the deal. In a later flashback we see Joan and Joe as a couple and Joan volunteers to proofread his first book. Her own work is going nowhere and she must accept the fact that female writers in the 1960s have no future in a man’s world. Back to the present in Stockholm, we learn that David has also taken up writing and Nathaniel is making progress on his interviews with Joe and Joan.
Here several themes run parallel. Was it really impossible 50 years ago for a woman to publish anything? “Nobody will take a woman who is writing seriously, much less read any of her books.” Is it the role of a woman to support her husband in every way? Is this love? Why isn’t Joe encouraging David in his own authorship ambitions? What is the real secret behind the scenes? What does David mean when he says, “I am worshipping at the wrong parental shrine.” This excellent film rests on wonderful actors, and a script based on the successful book The Wife by Meg Wolitzer. Although we are “in” the USA and Sweden, actually almost everthing was very realistically filmed in Glasgow, Scotland. In the flashback scenes Harry Lloyd plays the younger Joe and Annie Starke the younger Joan, a perfect role for her, considering that in real life she is the daughter of actress Glenn Close. In a post-film discussion, my press colleague mentioned similarities to the film Colette which opened a few weeks earlier. It is a biopic about a real person, Colette (1873-1954), who had similar experiences to the fictitious Joan. (Becky Tan)