Dr. Donna Copeland’s
FELICITY JONES RALPH FIENNES KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS
THE INVISIBLE WOMAN
Oscar nominated actor Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter, The English Patient) once again jumps behind the camera as well as in front of it to direct his second feature film. His directorial debut, Coriolanus, was met with drastic mixed reviews, but The Invisible Woman is a beautiful story that he has captured with heartbreaking detail and stunning performances. Based on the darker side of renowned author Charles Dickens's personal life, Fiennes explores the relatively modern concept of celebrity in the late 1800’s as Dickens is one of the most famous men in the world. Fiennes, who has worked with some of cinema’s great talents, yet again casts his former co-stars alongside himself.
At 18-years old, Nelly Ternan (Jones) was the younger of three sisters who were actors for a living; their mother, Mrs. Frances Ternan (Thomas), is also an actor and so begins their professional and friendly relationship working with Mr. Charles Dickens (Fiennes). Nelly saw more to Dickens's writing than everyone else, especially his wife Catherine (Joanna Scanlan). In a very private way, although still obvious to Mrs. Frances, Dickens began pursuing the young Nelly and their relationship became the talk of the papers. Torn between a life of virtue and giving in to her heart's desires, Nelly would choose to be the other woman and be forced to live with that decision the rest of her life.
In one of the key scenes early in the film that shows the opposing views of the two women in Dickens life, Catherine, after one of her husband’s readings, says that his work is “designed to be entertainment”. Nelly, fascinated by Dickens's every word, responds with “Surely it’s more than that; it changes us.” The look Scanlan (Notes on a Scandal, The Other Boleyn Girl) gives following the remark is brilliant, and her entire performance as the quiet wife who knows she is unwanted is bittersweet. The two meet again in another scene that is as brutal and uncomfortable a situation as could have been in that period is again perfectly set up with two women talking about everything but the obvious.
Felicity Jones (who played Fiennes daughter in Cemetery Junction) gives an extraordinary performance that grounds the film. Fiennes is great as Dickens, but it’s the female performances here, including Thomas, that the script is built around. We watch the detrimental compromise of a young woman whose feelings cannot be justified. Her vigor for life, acting and her fascination for one man is dwindled when she enters into a relationship with him. There is also a devastating train wreck that was unexpected and choreographed very well for a low budget period piece. Fiennes has introduced a darker piece of history about one of the most celebrated authors of all time and done so in a beautifully bleak and depressing manner that represents both the era and the sacrifice every human makes for happiness.
Final Thought – Fiennes directly melancholy and sadness beautifully.
By: Dustin Chase
The richness of the colors and emotional tones of The Invisible Woman resemble a Renaissance painting. And the darkness of Dickensian Victorian dramas is just as apparent in Ralphe Fiennes’ second directorial production of a love story within something of a tragedy and a commentary on the status of women who go outside conventional boundaries.
The focus of the story is not actually Charles Dickens (played by Fiennes), but young Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), whom he took as a lover in his midlife. Most of the film is a flashback to the time when she first became acquainted with him and throughout their relationship until his death. Six years after that, she became a reasonably happy married woman with children. She and her husband run a boys’ school in Margate.
The film does give a picture of the man Charles Dickens, his career, and his popularity with the public. As noted by his wife (Joanna Scanlon) in the film, it would never be clear which he loved more, his public or his wife/significant other. He did seem to be a man of prodigious energy; in addition to writing novels and periodicals, he directed theater, gave readings, performed charity work, and took extensive tours throughout the British Isles, Europe, and America. He also had a boyish playfulness about him that was delightful, but could be exasperating at times.
Fiennes brings his character to life with all the complexities of personality that seemed to be a part of Dickens. Felicity Jones is somewhat a newcomer to American audiences, except perhaps for those who have seen the film Hysteria and a number of Masterpiece Theatre productions. She is adroit in playing the 18 year-old Nelly, as well as the older but still young-looking wife and mother. (Interestingly, the real Nelly gave her age during this time as 14 years younger than she actually was.) She and Fiennes play off one another in an elegant dance. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Nelly’s mother, who (shockingly for the time) goes along with the subterfuge of Dickens’ private life. As is typical of Thomas, she lights up every scene she is in, and captures the audience’s attention. I also liked Joanna Scanlon’s portrayal of Catherine Dickens, his wife, particularly her blank slate of a face showing pure sincerity when she gives Nelly the gift from Dickens that had mistakenly been delivered to her.
In addition to the fine acting and direction, Abi Morgan’s script contributes significantly to the value of this work. It is tightly constructed, but always engaging in its depiction of what could be a hopeless love story but turns out to be a moving, entirely human tale. The pace of the film allows for the viewer to reflect at times on the dilemmas Dickens and Ternan face.
In an interview, Fiennes talks about the film showing the fragility of relationships and intimacy. He said Dickens was in a troubled state when he and his wife became distant with one another, and Nelly’s appearance gave him hope for renewal. Although it is seldom easy to forgive and empathize with a philandering husband, the film is perfectly successful in drawing out our sympathies for a man who is known as the most important British author in Victorian times.
By Donna R. Copeland