The Wife

Tom’s Rating: 8/10 – Lucy’s Rating: 8/10.

Recently more films (and big-budget TV series) seem to be using long, tense shots of characters' faces to catch the emotional turbulence of their subject. Elisabeth Moss’s character Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale, particularly in the second series, is often shown in silent close-up as her fear, sorrow, and determination fought for control.

In many ways, The Wife builds on this trend. The superficial nature of the story plays second fiddle to a character study of a heavily conflicted yet brilliant woman. For most of the film, I was held by Glenn Close’s performance. She captured the complexity of her situation, the simultaneous yet contradictory emotions she felt, and her attitude towards her husband.

I particularly enjoyed one scene, set in their hotel room, where the couple lurch from arguing loudly to embracing over the news of their newly born grandchild. In this, and other scenes, the film makes no attempt to belittle the wife. “I am no victim,” she tells her husband’s pandering biographer. Both characters are flawed and there is little sense that somehow the wife is straightforwardly the victim of her husband’s success - despite the real sense of injustice that slowly builds.

At points, however, the magic of this character study was broken by awkwardly written scenes that lapsed into the predictable tropes that the film otherwise painstakingly avoided. Close’s “kingmaker” remark felt overly Claire Underwood. And in the final scene too, as the family fly back to the US onboard Concorde, the use of the blank page metaphor was bizarrely cliché.

Another gripe throughout the film was how the support staff of the Swedish Academy were jarringly portrayed. I presume their gawkish manner were designed to unsettle the audience, to capture the out-of-reality weirdness of everything that winning a Nobel Prize entails. Yet the awkwardness of these characters was unsettling only to the extent it broke the emotional tension at the heart of the film. It felt like the hotel staff from The Lobster had landed new jobs in Stockholm.

On the whole, Close’s performance really is brilliant - and for that reason I enjoyed the film. It did feel, however, that The Wife overly relied on her performance. There were moments in the film that felt lazy. A fantastic performance, and a good film, but not without its flaws.

Thomas Robinson
Thomas Robinson
Assistant Professor in Quantitative Comparative Politics

I am a political scientist studying representation, money in politics, and experimental/computational social science.