The Invisible Woman (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner07/02/2014

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 112 mins

Impressively directed, emotionally engaging British costume drama with a sensitive script, stunning production design work and terrific performances from a fine ensemble cast.

What's it all about?
Directed by Ralph Fiennes, The Invisible Woman is based on the biography by Claire Tomalin that detailed the secret relationship between Charles Dickens and 18 year old actress Nelly Ternan. The film begins 13 years after Dickens' death with a now married Nelly (Felicity Jones) looking back on her affair with Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) as she's preparing to put on a school production of The Frozen Deep, a play Dickens wrote with Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander), and the play she was in when they first met.

The attraction between Dickens and Nelly is immediately apparent, not least to both Dickens' wife Catherine (Joanna Scanlan) and Nelly's mother Frances (Kristin Scott Thomas), who disapproves but sees the match as a potentially good thing for Nelly, since she actually lacks acting talent and therefore any means to support herself. However, the combination of Dickens' marriage (and ten children), his social standing and Nelly's own reluctance to become his secret mistress means that their affair faces a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The Good
Jones is terrific as Nelly, playing her, not, as might be expected, as a smitten, passionate and reckless young woman, but instead as a serious-minded individual with a much stronger sense of morality than any of the adults around her, including her own mother – there's a lovely scene where Frances is possibly feigning sleep while chaperoning a late-night meeting between Dickens and her daughter. Fiennes is equally good as Dickens, delivering a sensitive and charismatic performance that's laced with sadness at his inability to both do the right thing and to live the life he desires. Fiennes has also assembled a top-notch supporting cast, including a reunion with his English Patient co-star Scott Thomas (excellent as always) and an enjoyable turn from Hollander as a heavily-bearded Wilkie Collins, who gets in a couple of amusing asides. However, the supporting honours are roundly stolen by Scanlan, who's deeply moving as Catherine, in a role that could easily have been painted as scolding and largely unsympathetic.

The Great
Abi Morgan's script takes an intriguing approach to the central affair, allowing it to unfold at an agonisingly slow pace that seems entirely appropriate to the times; it's also filmed in curiously chaste fashion – there's not a single kissing scene, for example, while the sex scene is perhaps the most un-erotic coupling you'll see all year (there's much more eroticism in their late-night candlelit conversations).

On top of that, the production design is excellent and the film is beautifully shot and lit by Rob Hardy, using natural lighting and candlelight wherever possible, which lends the film an air of authenticity often lacking from period dramas.

Worth seeing?
The Invisible Woman is a superbly written and powerfully emotional period drama with terrific performances from its two leads and assured direction from Fiennes. Recommended.

Film Trailer

The Invisible Woman (PG)
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Content updated: 19/10/2017 10:06

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