Glenn Close delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Joan Castleman, the long-suffering wife, muse, and kingmaker of Nobel Prize winner Joe Castleman (Jonathon Pryce).
This film captures the chilling formality and repressed fury of a woman who has endured decades of a conventional marriage characterized by love and betrayal, comfort and compromise, fame and entitlement.
In the flashbacks to the late 1950s and early 1960s, younger versions of the characters, expertly played by Annie Stark (Glenn Close’s daughter) and Harry Lloyd, provide the backstory for this unbalanced relationship.
Young Joan Archer had writing aspirations of her own and what Professor Joe Castleman called the “golden touch.” Intrigued by her looks and talent, Joe singles out Joan and has an affair that derails his marriage and university career.
Young Joe, the professor, is more than willing to nurture this budding talent, but an unfortunate encounter with a disillusioned female author (Elizabeth McGovern) erodes young Joan’s confidence.
What follows is a plan to merge Joe’s big ideas with Joan’s golden touch. And so begins Joe’s literary career, one that catapults him onto the national and international scene with loyal, compliant Joan at his side.
The awarding of the Nobel Prize provides the catalyst for change.
It is clear from the start (even to Joe) that changes are in the air. Joan bristles with competence, ensuring the minutiae of Joe’s life are in order, while her facial expressions and curt replies tell another story. She may appear dutiful, but she is definitely not submissive.
Wannabe biographer Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater) picks up on these nuances as he tries to ingratiate himself with Joan, Joe, and their son David (Max Irons). Nathaniel has thoroughly researched Joe and reached his own conclusions about the Castleman success story. All Nathaniel needs is validation from Joan or David.
Having read and enjoyed the novel by Meg Wolitzer, I found myself eagerly following each scene in this well-crafted film directed by Bjorn Runge. While there were a few minor differences—Nobel Prize vs. Helsinki Prize, Sweden vs. Finland, two children vs. three children, no sauna scene—the gripping storyline and gut-wrenching moments have been preserved.
A must-see film!