Sydney Film Festival Review: The Wife (Sweden/UK, 2017) is a slow-burning & tense character study about a woman’s conflicting emotions

The title of the film, The Wife, gives away about as much as the titular character. Is she a good one? A bad lady? The answer is a mystery for a large portion of this slow-burning character study. One thing’s for certain, this wifey is brimming with conflicting emotions in this bittersweet, character-driven drama.

Glenn Close stars in this adaption of a best-selling novel originally written by Meg Wolitzer. It is written for the screen by Jane Anderson (Olive Kitteridge) and is the English-language debut for director, Björn Runge. The plot is one that examines the ramifications of a devoted wife’s sacrifices and the choices she made over several decades in a seemingly-devoted marriage.

Close really carries this film and is absolutely riveting. She plays the supportive, Joan Castleman, the partner of the charismatic and genius writer, Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). We learn through some flashbacks that Joan was originally Joe’s student at university (the younger Joan is played by Close’s real-life daughter (Annie Starke). While studying, Joan was an aspiring writer who showed promise. But these dreams were quickly dashed after she became Joe’s mistress and eventual second wife. She was forced to live in the shadow of his highly-decorated creativity.

At the start of the film the Castlemans look like a doting, older couple. They’re on the verge of becoming grandparents. They have another reason to celebrate because Joe is being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. They even jump on the bed together to celebrate. Everything seems perfect- for a short spell at least.

It doesn’t take long for the cracks to appear. We soon learn of Joe’s philandering ways. He also proves to be a poor parent who fails to encourage his son, a fledgling writer (Max Irons). Christian Slater meanwhile, is on hand playing a cunning hack journalist hell-bent on writing Joe’s biography. He looks poised to expose or at least topple this celebrated author from his mantle.

In all of this, Close is an integral piece of the puzzle. She gives an understated but highly emotive performance. Along the way little glimpses of her marital dissatisfaction appear. This performance is being described as having Oscar potential and it’s easy to see why. Close is formidable through the aftermath of what we assume are tonnes of unspoken arguments and simmering, long-held resentments, even if the eventual outcome is a predictable one.

The Wife is a fascinating drama that pushes a lot of buttons with its examination of the human psyche and the sexism that is rife in society. It’s a mysterious look at a perfect spouse whose life was reduced to a bit part and how she eventually wakes up to her own growing dissatisfaction. This is ultimately a timely and relatable story about a messy marriage marred by conflicting emotions and quashed dreams.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Wife was reviewed at sydney Film Festival. It releases in Australian cinemas on August 2nd. For tickets and more details head HERE.