The Invisible Woman: Movie Review
Cast: Felicity Jones, Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander
Director: Ralph Fiennes
For Ralph Fiennes' second directorial outing (after Coriolanus), he heads off to the world of Charles Dickens and 1850s London.
It's 1857 and Dickens (played by Fiennes) is at the peak of his career; afforded an almost rockstar status at the time, he's mobbed wherever he goes and universally adored. His life changes when he meets the aspiring (but hopeless) actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), who's from an acting dynasty and who's utterly besotted with the idea of Dickens and the man himself.
Taking him as her lover, Nelly finds herself confined to the shadows, spoken of and about but never directly to in social circles. But long after Dickens' death, she finds herself living in that veil of secrecy and haunted by what happened as those around her marvel in the wonder of the man - is it time now for her to speak up?
The Invisible Woman is resolutely maudlin throughout its near 2 hour run time - and it's ever so slightly off-putting.
While Fiennes impresses as Dickens, breathing energy into the fading marriage Dickens has and bringing life to Claire Tomalin's book (that's been adapated by the writer of The Iron Lady, Abi Morgan), there's just no real life in the piece and it's a curiously detached affair in more ways than one.
Granted, it's supposed to be the tale of a woman confined to the sidelines and a life whose official record is facing being expunged from the history books, but Felicity Jones can't manage to convey the turmoil without looking winsome and coy; she's so witheringly wet that you find it hard to believe that Dickens would ever fall for her.
There's little romantic tension and atmosphere either in this downbeat drama; the closest it comes is when Dickens despatches his wife to deliver a birthday gift for Nelly that's been wrongly sent to her. And even that sequence is lacking in real bite or discomfort.
While Fiennes has done a good solid job of bringing it all to life, there's little to lift this from a melancholy movie that doesn't quite fire on as many levels as it needs to. Moments of the writing are spot on with Jones' Nelly intoning to Dickens that "My name is whispered with yours and yet I have nothing", but there's little poignancy or hint that she's maligned by the denials - and there's little joie de vivre when the pair are together. I'm not saying there needs to be a full on affair or sequences thereof, merely that something more needed to be proffered up to hint at the underlying tragedy of a love denied rather than Jones merely looking coyly over her shoulder.Consequently, it's hard to really understand why Nelly is so angry and tortured in the present day sequences (such as they are) when we're denied details of Dickens' death and the implications upon her.
The film opens with Jones' Nelly pounding the beach, swept up in her growing discord at being in the shadows - and it's here that as a solo person on the beach, Fiennes manages to convey some of her loneliness and alienation. It's rare moments like this that convince because elsewhere, The Invisible Woman is just too cold, understated and detached to really care about.