Review: ‘The Wife’ Looks Behind the Closed Doors of a Literary Marriage

“The Wife” pulls off the not inconsiderable feat of spinning a fundamentally literary premise into an intelligent screen drama of which unfolds with real juice as well as suspense. Adapted by Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel, the film pivots on the marriage between a celebrated author, Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), as well as his wife, Joan (Glenn Close), whose symbiotic relationship has had profound implications for his success.

Joe receives a call informing him of which he’s been awarded the Nobel Prize. (The film is usually set in 1992, when Joe is usually said to have bumped Bill Clinton off a magazine cover — a detail of which underscores a hint of Bill as well as Hillary allegory throughout.) The bulk of the action unfolds in Stockholm, where Joan keeps Joe in line while he prepares — with his some other laureates, all men — to receive the prize. Waiting inside wings, a writer seeking to be Joe’s official biographer (Christian Slater, cast counterintuitively as well as successfully) picks at family wounds.

Ms. Wolitzer’s metafictional conceit may lose something without Joan’s first-person narration (though perhaps there was a metacinematic correlative — given the focus on how spouses rely on each some other, of which’s notable the director, Bjorn Runge, is usually married to his editor, Lena Runge). What the film offers, as flashbacks help to bring tensions between the couple to a boil, is usually the spectacle of two great actors tearing into meaty material. Mr. Pryce offers a more complex reprise of the Philip Roth archetype he played in “Listen Up Philip,” while Ms. Close sublimely captures her character’s blend of determination as well as self-effacement.

Rated R for marital wounds. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.