IN Bjorn Runge’s drama about a marriage under strain, Glasgow does a wonderful job of passing for a wintry and glistening Stockholm, city of Nobel Prizes. Much in the same way, Glenn Close’s titular spouse is not all she seems. Though appearing the epitome of the supportive partner, fires of resentment burn within, making this not so much a #MeToo tale as a #WhatAboutMe piece.

Close plays Joan, wife of the great American novelist Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). Joe is the kind of aged, literary lion who likes to think he has a few good roars left in him. As we meet the pair they are having a sleepless night at their home in Connecticut, waiting for a call from Sweden that may or may not come. Such are Joe’s nerves, he initiates sex to pass the time, with Joan good-naturedly doing her bit. The call arrives, the celebration begins and before you can say, “Is Joe more of a Philip Roth or a John Updike?” the couple, and their adult son (Max Irons), are on their way to Europe.

On the flight with them is Joe’s wannabe biographer, Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater). Joe despises him, with Joan tolerating him out of politeness. At other times, this good cop/bad cop partnership of Joe and Joan’s becomes mother and mothered, or maid and master. They are many things to each other, but never equals.

Arriving in Sweden, Joe and his fellow winners (all male) are treated like royalty. The more Joe is praised, the more he affects humility by lavishing compliments on his wife. “Without this woman I am nothing,” he says. To another crowd of admirers, he announces: “I’m very low maintenance,” to which Joan replies: “Only when he’s asleep.”

As the trip goes on, Joan becomes increasingly exasperated with Joe’s behaviour. But why, and why now? Is it simply jet lag, as she says; the strains of a long marriage inevitably beginning to show; or something else?

The tale, taken from the novel by Meg Wolitzer, loops back and forth to show the couple in their younger days, when he was her married professor and she was an undergraduate with obvious

talent. We see him charm and encourage Joan in equal measure.

In further flashbacks the balance of power begins to shift, not just between Joe and Joan but between Joan and the times she has been born into. There is a telling scene when the pair go to a reading by a woman writer, played by Elizabeth McGovern. Joan, expecting some words of sisterly support, is told instead not to waste her time thinking she will ever, as a woman, be treated seriously in the male world of publishing and reviewing.

Still waiting in the wings for his interview is Bone. Taking Joan for a drink, he sympathises with her about Joe’s “indiscretions” and hints that she was more to him, and his career, than just a muse or a helpmate. Joan is having none of it, in public at least. “You ought to write fiction,” she says.

Joe’s son is becoming equally impatient with his father, especially after he presents him with a short story only to have it dismissed as a promising start. Work on your characters, says dad. Blowhard husbands and stoic wives are such a cliche, he says with supreme irony.

By the third act, Close and Pryce are in full Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? territory, and it is here that the strains in the Swedish director’s picture begin to show. As the emotions heighten the dialogue becomes laboured. Joan’s irritation itself becomes irritating. Why did she put up with the situation for so long? Just as the screenplay starts to dig in this promising area, the story moves on. A pity.

Pryce does a lovely job of switching between imperious man and needy boy. Given the chance, and he does not get enough of one here, Irons does his best with a two-dimensional character. Slater’s character struggles to be even one-dimensional. Close, however, is uniformly superb, her white hair and regal bearing giving her the air of an ageing queen denied her throne.