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Keeper of the Castleman: The Wife

Updated on March 9, 2019


A special achievement has been bestowed upon author Joseph Castleman. Early one morning, the man receives a phone call from a member of the Nobel committee to announce he will receive the annual recipient of their Prize in Literature. It first appears to be a proud moment for Joseph and his family in The Wife. When the time comes to go to Stockholm, though, Joseph (Jonathan Pryce), his wife Joan (Glenn Close), and son David (Max Irons), start to let tensions show. Joan had been a writer with promise before she devoted herself to family matters as her husband's success afforded them a comfortable life. Yet, Joe won't make the time to read and critique a story David had written, as the son looks to begin a second generation of critical success.

Joan and Joseph had been together for 35 years, ever since she had been a student of young Professor Castlemen. When Joan meets alum and published author Elaine Mozell (Elizabeth McGovern) at a university function, the student is encouraged to abandon thoughts of writing in a field where men dominate. On the flight to accept the Nobel, the Castlemans encounter Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), a writer working on a biography of Joseph. He'd like to get together with the couple to discuss his literary career.


The Wife, which is based on a novel by Meg Wolitzer, is a good drama that has some degree of predictablity. Most of the movie is set in 1993, with some flashback scenes set in 1958. The movie lets viewers wonder how much of Joe's success can be attributed to the Nobel winner himself. The movie also lets viewers question the degree to which Joseph appreciates his support system. During the course of his writing career, Joe has shown he has, to some extent, not focused on the ones who have been there for him the most. The screenplay comes from Emmy-winning writer Jane Anderson, whose credits include the min-series Olive Kitteridge and the big screen effort The Prize Winner Of Defiance, Ohio, which she also directed. Anderson gives insight to Joan's perspective, and shows the title character to be the ever-dependable silent partner in the marriage. Joan has come to peace with her choices, but her peace faces one of its biggest challenges. The pacing by director Bjorn Runge is slow, but deliberate as the story of the Castlemans reveals itself.

Close gives one of her best performances as Joan, who long ago made a key decision, and has lived with that decision. When Joe lavishes praise on his wife during his acceptance speech, she becomes uncomfortable with the attention. That the Nobel moment belongs to her husband is just one of the reasons. When the spotlight turns to Joan, she's uncomfortably reminded of the sacrifices she made so Joe could succeed. Pryce also does well as Joe, the author who saw his work draw much acclaim. He also shows he's the less dependable one in the marriage, knowing his family would still be there for him. Joan knows what Joe does when she's not there, and has since the time they became a couple. Slater is enjoyable in a small role as Nathaniel, a writer who knows his subject, as is McGovern as Elaine, who lets young Joan know the difference between acclaim and success. Close's real-life daughter, Annie Starke, plays Joan Archer, the student who falls for the teacher.


The Wife takes a look at a moment that should be cause for celebration, and finds the cheers take a back seat to a sobering truth. Success on the printed page led to financial comfort and a balancing act in the Castleman family. Words also threaten to unravel that balancing act, and Joan simply will not have that. Joseph may have the surname of Castleman, but he is definitely not the king of all he surveys.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Wife three stars. A castle made with too much sand.

The Wife trailer

© 2019 Pat Mills


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