(Release Info London schedule; September 26th, 2018, Gate Theatre, 18:30)
After nearly forty years of marriage, Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) and Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) are complements. Where Joe is brash, Joan is shy. Where Joe is casual, Joan is elegant. Where Joe is vain, Joan is self-effacing. And where Joe enjoys his very public role as 'Great American Novelist', Joan pours her considerable intellect, grace, charm, and diplomacy into the private role of 'Great Man’s Wife', keeping the household running smoothly, the adult children in close contact, and Joe’s pills dispensed on schedule. At times, a restless discontentment can be glimpsed beneath Joan’s smoothly decorous surface, but her natural dignity and keen sense of humor carry her through the rough spots. It’s 1993, and Joe is about to be awarded 'The Nobel Prize' for his acclaimed and prolific body of work. Joe’s literary star has blazed since he and Joan first met in the late 1950s, when she was a demure Smith student and he, her married creative writing teacher.
From 1960 to 1993 to our present vantage point of 2018, we observe Joan and Joe Castleman in the context of their times, and ours. En route to Stockholm for 'The Nobel Prize' ceremonies, Joan and Joe are accompanied by their son David (Max Irons), an aspiring writer in his twenties who feels that Joe belittles his work. Sulky and resentful, David wears his wounded heart on his sleeve. There’s another man on board who also wants something from Joe; Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), a journalist who plans to write the definitive biography of Joseph Castleman, authorized or not. To crusty, arrogant Joe, Nathaniel’s just a pest to be brushed off, but to Joan, making an enemy of Nathaniel is a risky matter. As always, she’s the conciliator between Joe and David, Joe and Nathaniel. Amid the nonstop round of ceremonial festivities in Stockholm, Joan and Joe are swept into familiar, long-worn roles; Joe is flattered and schmoozed, while Joan stands by his side wearing her quiet smile and flinching only slightly at 'no, Joan’s not a writer.
As we see in flashback to Joan and Joe’s early days in the late ‘50s, Joan not only had her own writing aspirations, she had the talent and the looks to capture the attention of her teacher, Joe. A caustic encounter with Elaine Mozell (Elizabeth McGovern), an embittered novelist, gives Joan a warning preview of the obscurity awaiting the lady writer, no matter how talented. As Joan and Joe embark on a love affair, it fits a certain literary template of the time; she’s the well- bred WASP-y daughter of bland privilege, he’s the scrappy Jewish striver with the Brooklyn accent and the edgy stories to tell. With Joe’s first marriage busted up, they live the bohemian life in a 'Greenwich Village' walk-up. Joan gets a job at a publishing house, encountering enough casual sexism to squelch her own ambitions but spotting a chance to forward Joe’s career as the next hot young discovery. Thus is established the self-sacrificing partnership that continues right up to the Nobel gathering decades later. Another familiar, long-worn dynamic plays out in Stockholm as Joe is trailed by an attractive young woman photographer assigned to document Joe’s every public moment. Joan recognizes the predictable progression of flirtation and indiscretion that she has stoically overlooked through so many years of Joe’s serial infidelities. This time, Joan’s had enough. Serving Joe notice that she wants no place on a pedestal as his passive muse; matching wits with a prying Nathaniel Bone; letting her own grievances flare, for once, instead of smoothing over everyone else’s problems; Joan finally reaches for self-determination. The Castleman marriage and literary legend will never be the same.
What are the compromises that we make in a marriage and a great partnership? Are there secrets that we keep as a couple that are legitimate? As a husband, how do you respect and love your wife? "The Wife" examines forty years of give and take between literary lion Joe Castleman, and the person who knows him best, supports him steadfastly, resents him deeply, and possibly loves him anyway; his wife Joan. The character of Joan Castleman is a deeply contained, elegant and shy woman who has taken the back seat to her brilliant husband. Joe’s anger and narcissism and infidelities are driven by inadequacy and insecurity and feeling emasculated. Through different times and different mores; from the 1950s and ‘60s of the Castlemans’ youth, to the 1990s of their mature relationship and it's high-profile crisis moment at 'The Nobel Prize' award ceremony, and up to our current-day perspective, we observe two talented and ambitious lifelong partners reckoning with power dynamics between men and women that continue to bedevil us today. It’s a timeless but also very timely subject.
Could we possibly sustain the kind of bargain that Joe and Joan Castleman sustained for forty years? Whatever our contemporary take may be on the sexual politics at work in the Castleman marriage, it’s all about the grey areas. This isn’t an easy black-and-white story. Ultimately, it’s about power, the power that Joan gives up and finally reclaims. It's hard for us to imagine what it's like to be in that world where women weren't expected to achieve high things the way men were. Joan may be part of the generation of our mothers and grandmothers, but her struggles with creativity, motherhood, and fulfillment ring out clearly to us today. She has the soul of an artist, the curiosity, the focus, the wildly fertile imagination. But her lack of confidence is part of the cultural climate.
"The Wife" is adapted by Jane Anderson from the Meg Wolitzer novel of the same name. Meg’s novel tells a story that's so subversive about what it means to be a female writer. Our industry is now willing to embrace films that are driven by a female protagonist. "The Wife" interweaves the midcentury story of the couple’s youthful passion and ambition with a portrait of a marriage, thirty-plus years later, a lifetime’s shared compromises, secrets, betrayals, and genuine, mutual love. It's the story of a long, complicated marriage affords great actors the chance to reflect all the knots and nuances of their brainy, funny, perplexing, deeply compromised, but deeply compelling characters. This film is like music; two instruments playing a duet.
The story unfolds in various timelines, often in flashback, and in three different locales. You've a puzzle to solve, how much are you influenced by reality and the recreation of a period, and how much can you explore it, and then make it your own. At times we’ve tried to absolutely replicate certain things, and other times we’ve just taken it as a guide, then we've gone off and done what we want. So much talent marshalled to tell a story about so much talent has yielded a film to admire. The film conveys the dance of marriage, the compromises made, the agonies lived through, and the familiarity of two people who've known each other intimately for a very long time, but they also address some fundamental, pressing questions about men, women and power.