The Invisible Woman
Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones and Joanna Scanlon shine in this Dickens drama
Ralph Fiennes’ second directorial effort is impressive in its evocation of restrained emotion. Based on Claire Tomalin’s book about Charles Dickens’ relationship with an 18-year-old aspiring actress named Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), the film is structured on two timeframes and transitions adroitly between Nelly’s fateful initial encounter with Dickens (and the inception of their affair) and her later state of isolation and grief.
The action is often confined to domestic settings within which specific codes and conventions prevail over the scope of social interaction. The film’s tension derives not only from the necessarily chaste and somewhat clumsy nature of Dickens’ pursuit of Nelly, but also from the evident risk of scandal that could (and does eventually) arise as a result of his fascination with her. Dickens may give up his wife and family for Nelly, but the viewer is left in no doubt that the greater loss is hers: for in accepting his love she loses her own voice.
Fiennes gives a measured and intelligent performance as Dickens, but the film really belongs to Felicity Jones and Joanna Scanlan. As the writer’s mistress and wife respectively, both of them are condemned to invisibility and their exchanges are rife with a resigned and sad complicity over the female lot.
General release from Fri 7 Feb.