- Bjorn Runge
- Run Time
- 1 hour and 40 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
Our Content ratings (1-10): Violence 0; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 2.
Although Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) does not spin or make clothing for her husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce), she certainly has been the “capable wife” described at the end of the Book of Proverbs. She has, we will see, done far more in their long marriage to further Joe’s hugely successful writing career than almost anyone suspects. When we first meet them it is 1992, and they are preparing for the long flight to Sweden where Joe is to receive the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature. Director Bjorn Runge’s adaptation of the novel by Meg Wolitzer (screenplay by Jane Anderson) turns out to be quite different from the Bible’s picture of the faithful wife, her story evolving instead into a study of long suppressed rage and feminine liberation.
On the plane Joe brushes off fellow passenger Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), a writer who has been pursuing him for interviews for a book he wants to produce. Joan suggests that he treat him a little more diplomatically, but Joe will not listen.
Joe treats their son David (Max Irons, son of Jeremy Irons) little better. The young man aspires to be writer but instead of encouragement receives constant put downs from the older writer. He has come along only because of pressure from Joe, the narcissistic father insisting that the whole family witness his triumph.
Through a series of flashbacks, we see how Joe and Joan met back in the days when he was a married professor in 1958 at Smith College striving to be published and she was a student in his writing class also wanting to become an author. Entering his private life as their babysitter, she becomes his mistress, and then after a divorce, his wife—and his muse. (Their younger versions are played by Harry Lloyd and Annie Stark.)
In one stark scene revelatory of the patriarchal 1950s Joan attends the lecture of a minor female author (played by Elizabeth McGovern), who discouraged and turned cynical by the demeaning way that male publishers and critics have treated her work, discourages her from trying. Instead of working on her own ideas, Joan devotes herself to helping Joe, who hitherto has been unable to develop his ideas. His career soon takes off after she goes to work at a publishing house as a reader where she overhears her bosses talking about their need to find a “Jewish writer.” She lays before them one of her husband’s manuscripts.
In Sweden Joe continues to rebuff his son as well as ruffle Joan’s feathers. Bone continues to pursue Joe, homing in on Joan in an attempt to get her to cooperate on a tell-all biography He has tracked down some of Joan’s early stories published in small literary journals, and so he knows from their high quality something of her long hidden literary talent. But this will prove to be but a half of her story.
Glen Close is magnificent in conveying her growing frustration and disdain by her facial expressions and posture in reaction to her vain husband. Joe cannot control his roving eye, he even flirting with the lovely woman photographer (Karin Franz Korlof) assigned to follow him around for photo opportunities. For forty years Joan has put up with her husband’s antics, but now, at the pinnacle of his career, Joan rebels, revealing that she is far more than the dutiful wife.
Aside from the desire to witness what should be an Oscar-nominated performance, this film ought to be seen and discussed by those who embrace the feminist agenda of equal treatment for women and men, a message for men as well as women.
This review is in the October issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store. Past issues of VP are available back to 2012, all of which are accessible to annual subscribers