A beautiful young woman and a distinguished writer meet and fall for each other. The writer is Charles Dickens, a married man with a high profile. Their “secret” relationship haunts the woman years after it has ended and she finds it almost impossible to reconcile with it and move on. My review of The Invisible Woman after the jump.
Nelly (Felicity Jones) lives in rural England, where she’s married to the local school master and assists with the staging of the children’s plays. On the surface she has a charmed life, but it’s quickly obvious that she’s distracted, often lost in seemingly unhappy thoughts. Nelly, who is from a family of actors, came into the company of Mr Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) through her and her family’s work and socialising in theatre circles, in which Dickens was also active. Dickens was taken by Nelly and after some time, the two became intimate. In starting something with a man married to his work, the public and his wife, Nelly becomes the invisible woman, loved by Dickens but only in the shadows and only on his terms.
There is a quiet beauty about The Invisible Woman, which is both haunting and enchanting. The bleak, barren beaches where Nelly takes her daily walks are beautiful, yet harsh. It is here that she loses herself in her pain and in her memories, struggling to come to terms with her past and move on. Sweeping shots of the beach show its immense size, making Nelly seem small, and even frail in comparison. This is vastly different from the theatre setting where we first make Mr Dickens’s acquaintance. Here there is warmth, energy and colour. The people are happy and Nelly is anything but invisible – she is vibrant and full of life. It is this youthful vibrancy which attracts Mr Dickens; while for Nelly, it is his charm and her admiration for his work that draws her in.
Ralph Fiennes, who both directs and stars in The Invisible Woman can be extremely proud of his achievements here. The film has a wonderfully restrained feel about it and allows facial expressions and body language to do much of the speaking. I loved the use of extended silence in particular scenes and was completely drawn into these often intimate moments. This is not your average period drama – this is a beautifully executed drama with heart and emotional depth. Fiennes is excellent as Dickens and he portrays the many sides of Dickens (a man who very much had public and private faces) well. Felicity Jones is not an actress who I am too familiar with, but I found her performance to be quite powerful. Despite the fact that she entered into a relationship with a married man, you do feel compassion towards her.
Completing the film is the impressive production design and costumes. The theatre sets are particularly well done, with beautiful wooden sets (such as wonderfully carved waves and house frames) and lush velvet curtains used to great effect. It’s easy to get lost in Dickens’s time in The Invisible Woman. His prose and her memories intertwine to create an alluring and elegant film.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Writer(s): Abi Morgan (screenplay), Claire Tomalin (book)
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas
Runtime: 111 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: April 17 2014