The Wife (2017) - Plot Summary Poster

(I) (2017)


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  • A wife questions her life choices as she travels to Stockholm to see her husband receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

  • Behind any great man, there's always a greater woman - and you're about to meet her. Joan Castleman (Glenn Close): a highly intelligent and still-striking beauty - the perfect devoted wife. Forty years spent sacrificing her own talent, dreams and ambitions to fan the flames of her charismatic husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) and his skyrocketing literary career. Ignoring his infidelities and excuses because of his "art" with grace and humour. Their fateful pact has built a marriage upon uneven compromises. And Joan's reached her breaking point. On the eve of Joe's Nobel Prize for Literature, the crown jewel in a spectacular body of work, Joan's coup de grace is to confront the biggest sacrifice of her life and secret of his career.

  • After nearly forty years of marriage, Joan and Joe Castleman (Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce) are complements. 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. 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. THE WIFE interweaves the 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 mutual love.

  • This plot description is chronological, although major parts of the film are told in flashback. In 1956, Joan Archer (Annie Starke) meets Joseph Castleman (Harry Lloyd), a handsome young married professor at a women-only college. Although already an accomplished (if unpublished) writer, Joan is awed by Joseph's force of personality and advice that "a writer must write". Joan meets a published alumni authoress (Elizabeth McGovern), whose cynical views on opportunities for female writers disheartens Joan. Two years later, Joseph has been fired for having an affair with Joan, his marriage is failing, and his first attempt at writing a novel turns out very poor. Joan, a secretary at a publishing house, observes how the all-male editors dismiss women writers. When Joan criticizes Joseph's work, he threatens to end his relationship with her (claiming she cannot love "a hack"). Joan agrees to fix Joseph's novel for him. The work, titled The Walnut, is published and becomes a bestseller. By 1960, Joseph and Joan are living in a large seaside home in Connecticut. Joan is hard at work writing a novel, to be published under Joseph's name, while Joseph supports her by cooking, cleaning, and caring for their first child, David. As Joseph and Joan converse, it is apparent that Joan's novel is a reflection of their life together, which bores Joan..

  • 1992. American novelist Joe Castleman has been named this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, the award not totally a surprise but the "telephone call" a relief nonetheless. Joe's wife, Joan Castleman, the two who met in 1958 when she was a student in his Creative Writing class at Smith College, he married to his first wife Carol at the time, is equally as excited, she who is prepared to take on the subordinate role in supporting this Nobel journey with and for him as she has with almost everything else in his life. With their daughter Susannah nearing the end of her pregnancy, the only person that will accompany them to Stockholm is their son, David Castleman, an aspiring writer himself. Although closer to his mother, David is searching for his father's approval instead for his first major writing effort in he being "the writer", that approval which seems difficult for Joe to provide regardless of his true views which places a strain between son and father. Much to Joe's chagrin, who also is on the trip to Stockholm is Nathaniel Bone, who is doing research for an unauthorized biography on Joe. The pressure Nathaniel places on Joe and Joan to cooperate with him increases as Nathaniel has received a contract for the biography, the interest greater with Nobel laureate attached to his name. As a greater spotlight is placed on Joe and only by association on Joan in support of him, Joan may come to reevaluate the role she willingly first took on early in their marriage when he was just starting his writing career and that she has played up until now.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In 1992 in Connecticut, Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) can't sleep because her husband, Joe (Jonathan Pryce) is too nervous to sleep since they're expecting a call from the Nobel committee. The call finally comes, and they learn that Joe has indeed won the Nobel prize for literature. Thrilled, they jump up and down on the bed. Soon after, at a party held on Joe's behalf, their children Susannah (who is very pregnant) and David (Max Irons) arrive. Joan tells David she loved his short story, but Joe still hasn't read it, which frustrates David. While giving a speech, Joe says that without Joan he is nothing.

    Joan, Joe, and David fly to Europe for the ceremony. On the plane, they are approached by Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), who wants to write Joe's biography. Joe is extremely annoyed with him and refuses to give him permission. When they land, they are greeted by the Nobel organizers, and Joe is assigned a young female photographer named Linnea. All the attention makes Joe a little agitated, and he asks Joan to listen to his heart since he's had heart issues before.

    In flashback, we see Smith College, 1958. Young student Joan (Annie Starke) meets with her Professor, young Joe (Harry Lloyd). Joe is extremely impressed with her writing but thinks it needs a little work - he pushes her to go deeper with the characters. He asks her to babysit for his young child since he and his wife have plans. When she goes over to do so, he and his wife are yelling at each other. In his desk, she finds a walnut with a love note to his wife written on it.

    In the present, the Castlemans attend more Nobel events. Joe tells people there that his wife doesn't write. Afterward, in the car, David and Joe get into another huge fight over David's sulky behavior. Joe admits he thinks David's story has potential but isn't good enough yet. David leaves, deciding to skip the rest of the day's activities. Joan tells Joe that some kind words wouldn't hurt, that "everyone needs approval." She asks Joe not to thank her in his Nobel acceptance speech that she doesn't want to be thought of as the long-suffering wife.

    In flashbacks, Professor Castleman is impressed with Joan's improvements to her story, believing it to be about his wife. She denies this, but then they kiss. They go to a reading by female author Elaine Mozell (Elizabeth McGovern), who Joan admires. But Elaine tells Joan not to be a writer. Joan is horrified, but Elaine says that no one will read books by a female author.

    In the present 1992, Joan is growing exhausted of all the events and takes an afternoon to herself. Nathaniel approaches her and invites her to have a drink. He tells her he's aware of Joe's many affairs and pushes her for a comment - Joan calmly tells him she is not a victim, and that she won't be painted that way. He tells her he found her writing from college, and that they were very good. Joan insists she has no regrets about giving it up. Nathaniel then tells him to read some of Joe's earliest work, and that it was fairly bad. He says that HER original writing reads the most like Joe's current-day writing. He implies that Joan is the real writer of Joe's many works, and urges her to speak out. She calmly denies all of it.

    Meanwhile, Joe flirts with Linnea. He goes in to kiss her but his blood pressure medication goes off, and he decides to go back to his room. He writes her a little note on a walnut and then goes back. When Joan returns, Joe gets angry with her for going out and drinking and smoking - and then Joan finds the walnut. She gets angry with him for his constant philandering, and the fight continues until a phone call interrupts - Susannah had her baby. Joan and Joe are so thrilled they drop the fight. Afterward, they reunite with David. Joe tries to give David constructive criticism on his writing, and after they leave, Nathaniel approaches David.

    In 1960 New York, Joan is a secretary at a publishing house. When an opportunity arises, she gets them to agree to read Joe's book, "The Walnut." But when Joan reads it first, she thinks the book never comes alive, and begins to give him feedback on it. Angry at the critique, Joe tells Joan he is leaving her. Joan begs him not to leave her, and he calms down. They agree the book story is compelling, but not the writing. Joan offers to "fix" it. After Joan's fix, the publishers want to publish the book. The two jump up and down on the bed in their tiny apartment.

    Before the Nobel ceremony, David, furious, tells his parents Nathaniel told him his theory and told him that Joan confirmed it. Joan steadfastly denies that she wrote the books, but David remembers his mom going away into his father's office and locking herself away in there. David cries uncontrollably. In another flashback to1968 Connecticut, the Castleman's live in a large beautiful house in Connecticut. Joan writes books while Joe takes care of their young children.

    At the Nobel ceremony, Joe dedicates his entire speech to Joan, which humiliates her. Disgusted, she flees the ceremony. In the car back to the hotel, Joan tells Joe she's leaving him and wants a divorce - she can't do it anymore. He tries to give her the Nobel prize, but she refuses, saying she doesn't want it. At the hotel, Joe tries to get her to reconsider, wanting to save the marriage, but the two descend into a massive argument, everything coming to the forefront - the lies, the writing, who the real talent is, the affairs - all of it comes up. Joan can't take the humiliation of standing at his side that his wife doesn't write. Suddenly, Joe has a heart attack. Joan calls for help, and as Joseph lays on the bed, he asks her if she loves him. She says yes, and he says "you're such a good liar." Help arrives, but they are unable to save Joe who dies.

    On the plane home, Nathaniel apologizes to Joan for her loss. She tells him that if he writes about his theory, she will take him to court. David overhears, and Joan tells him when they get home she's going to tell him and his sister everything.

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