Review

"The Invisible Woman" tells the true story of a love affair that Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) had with 18-year-old Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones) from 1857 until his death in 1870.

Abi Morgan’s script, adapted from the 1991 Claire Tomalin book, The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, starts off over a decade after Dickens has died. Nelly, now forty-something and married is with her husband, a drama teacher, as he prepares his pupils to perform one of Dickens' plays. It's at this play that Nelly is approached by an elderly local pastor and Dickens' devotee (John Kavanagh) who probes the "friendship" she is said to have enjoyed with the famous writer, this unleashes the flood of memories that makes up the story which is told in flashback.

Besides being one of the most famous novelists in the world, Dickens was an accomplished playwright and it was when he was staging the play, ‘The Frozen Deep,’ that Nelly Ternan first catches his eye and he casts her in the production. Nelly is the least talented of the three Ternan sisters, a fact their mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) plainly acknowledges when considering Dickens’s attraction to her youngest daughter. As Dickens and Nelly’s affair blossoms, it’s less a matter of carnal passion than arrangements — not the least of which have to do with Dickens’s long-suffering wife, Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), who bore him 10 children and who was all too aware of her husband’s infidelity. This being Victorian England Catherine has no voice and must do as her husband wishes. In one painful scene, Dickens makes Catherine deliver a gift to Nelly that she thought was for her. During the Victorian era, divorce was not an option and the illicit love affair had the potential to ruin Dickens’ career.

First and foremost, The Invisible Woman is Nelly’s story, and Jones seizes the opportunity to shine. She has come a long way from her role in "Like Crazy". Jones gives her most mature screen role to date. It’s easy to see why Dickens would be attracted to her and why she in turn would feel so conflicted about the attraction.

Fiennes masterfully paints Dickens as a great man whose artistic achievements are undermined by his own personal traits. He treats the woman in his life as "his property" and they must each dance to his tune. Not wanting to look at his wife any longer he has the adjoining door between their bedrooms shuttered up and when a train that he and Nelly are travelling in crashes and Nelly is injured he refuses to acknowledge to the rescuers that they know each other.

Fiennes vision of Victorian England is a world where everything is grey and drab and no one appears to ever be happy. The one magnificent scene in the film, and the only scene where anyone is having anything like a good time, is set at Doncaster racecourse and sees racehorses thunder across the screen from right to left. Whither Fiennes tried to copy the Ascot racing scene from "My Fair Lady" is up for debate, but that's certainly what it looks like.

Overall "The invisible Woman's" enjoyable thanks to the performances of its two main leads. If you're a fan of BBC costume dramas this could be right up your street.

"The Invisible Woman" tells the true story of a love affair that Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) had with 18-year-old Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones) from 1857 until his death in 1870.

Abi Morgan’s script, adapted from the 1991 Claire Tomalin book, The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, starts off over a decade after Dickens has died. Nelly, now forty-something and married is with her husband, a drama teacher, as he prepares his pupils to perform one of Dickens' plays. It's at this play that Nelly is approached by an elderly local pastor and Dickens' devotee (John Kavanagh) who probes the "friendship" she is said to have enjoyed with the famous writer, this unleashes the flood of memories that makes up the story which is told in flashback.

Besides being one of the most famous novelists in the world, Dickens was an accomplished playwright and it was when he was staging the play, ‘The Frozen Deep,’ that Nelly Ternan first catches his eye and he casts her in the production. Nelly is the least talented of the three Ternan sisters, a fact their mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) plainly acknowledges when considering Dickens’s attraction to her youngest daughter. As Dickens and Nelly’s affair blossoms, it’s less a matter of carnal passion than arrangements — not the least of which have to do with Dickens’s long-suffering wife, Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), who bore him 10 children and who was all too aware of her husband’s infidelity. This being Victorian England Catherine has no voice and must do as her husband wishes. In one painful scene, Dickens makes Catherine deliver a gift to Nelly that she thought was for her. During the Victorian era, divorce was not an option and the illicit love affair had the potential to ruin Dickens’ career.

First and foremost, The Invisible Woman is Nelly’s story, and Jones seizes the opportunity to shine. She has come a long way from her role in "Like Crazy". Jones gives her most mature screen role to date. It’s easy to see why Dickens would be attracted to her and why she in turn would feel so conflicted about the attraction.

Fiennes masterfully paints Dickens as a great man whose artistic achievements are undermined by his own personal traits. He treats the woman in his life as "his property" and they must each dance to his tune. Not wanting to look at his wife any longer he has the adjoining door between their bedrooms shuttered up and when a train that he and Nelly are travelling in crashes and Nelly is injured he refuses to acknowledge to the rescuers that they know each other.

Fiennes vision of Victorian England is a world where everything is grey and drab and no one appears to ever be happy. The one magnificent scene in the film, and the only scene where anyone is having anything like a good time, is set at Doncaster racecourse and sees racehorses thunder across the screen from right to left. Whither Fiennes tried to copy the Ascot racing scene from "My Fair Lady" is up for debate, but that's certainly what it looks like.

Overall "The invisible Woman's" enjoyable thanks to the performances of its two main leads. If you're a fan of BBC costume dramas this could be right up your street.



The Invisible Woman (12A)

1h 51m

Director: Ralph Fiennes
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas, Michelle Fairley, Tom Hollander

UK Release: Friday 7th February 2014






The Invisible Woman - Clip 1

The Invisible Woman - Clip 2