We live in a time where the likes of YouTube and the Internet have made it a lot harder to hide our secrets. A long time ago however, it was a lot easier to be invisible as we can see in Ralph Fiennes’ tasteful account of legendary author Charles Dickens’ secret love life in The Invisible Woman.
I say “tasteful” to describe this biographical romance drama because it could have been so different in the wrong hands. Adapted by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, 2011) from Claire Tomalin’s book, The Invisible Woman: The Story Of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, and directed by Fiennes, this film prevented being sucked into in today’s society with the love of trash and drama.
The world famous author, at the height of his career, meets a stunning 18 year old bit of crumpet (Oh, just imagine how it could’ve been presented!), Ellen Ternan (Felicity Jones); known as ‘Nelly’. It’s 1885 and Nelly teaches a drama class but, despite being a happily married mother, memories of her past still haunt her. We get to see why as we travel back to 1857 when Nelly was part of a theatrical family. With her mother Catherine Ternan (Kristin Scott Thomas), she had a role in the play The Frozen Deep that Charles Dickens wrote and staged.
Throughout rehearsals and during the celebrations after the play, Dickens is drawn to the pretty 18 year old but this is an era when his reputation would not survive the damage that would come from public knowledge of an affair.
One night Charles and Nelly are sharing secrets as they count the money they raised at a charity performance. Nelly’s scheming mother is pretending to doze nearby, delighted about her daughter’s involvement with one of the most famous authors in the world, yet Kristin Scott Thomas has the talent to make even that look elegant! Fiennes’ lack of music and evident silence makes these scenes even more powerful.
Joanna Scanlon gives a wonderful performance as Dickens’ plump wife Catherine Dickens. The pain in her angelic face is quite evident as she meets up with Nelly one day to give her a necklace from Dickens that she had thought was for herself. You can nearly feel the sorrow in her heart.
As both the director and lead in this film, Ralph Fiennes does a magnificent job. I was quite surprised that I liked it more than I thought I would. The lead performances are all brilliant. This film will undoubted satisfy Charles Dickens’ followers, yet I think if you are like me and have little knowledge of, or major interest in Dickens, the performances will make you enjoy this after all.
Reviewed by Kirstey Whicker
Rating out of 10: 7