What a treat it is to see two great performers at the top of their game. In this, Glenn Close plays Joan Castleman, whose husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) has just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. On the flight to Stockholm to receive the honour, they meet Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), a biographer interested in uncovering more of their story – it is a somewhat contrived character, but, as agent provocateur, he is essential in opening up the drama that unfolds (oddly, Bone is not a million miles from Slater’s investigative journo in 1994’s Interview with the Vampire). Through Bone’s prodding, we learn that Joan has been more than just the woman behind the great man. Flashbacks to when they met at college in Connecticut in the 60s – he as professor (Harry Lloyd), she as wannabe author (Annie Starke) – give the first clues as to the working relationship that developed between the pair. These scenes also highlight the difficulties confronted by a woman wishing to make her way in the man’s world of publishing. Forced by the times and Joe’s overbearing nature, Joan willingly became his unacknowledged collaborator and for forty years has been content to hide her light under a bushel. But in Stockholm, Joe’s hubris and Bone’s insistence that her sacrifice has been too great push Joan to a belated but passionate self-assertion. Close delivers a slow-burn of unruffled intensity and Starkie is excellent, too, in her portrayal of the youthful Joan. The couple’s son, David (Max Irons), himself a writer with ambition, might have earned our pity as the hard-done-by offspring, but for the fact that he feels sorry for himself enough already. It would have been easy for Swedish director Björn Runge to take the soft option and mercilessly put the boot into Joe, but he is not entirely contemptible, despite his self-delusion and ingratitude. For as Joan ruefully admits, ‘I was too shy to compete’. A marvellous film about how compromise is rarely fair but never irreversible.
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