At the pinnacle of his fame and career, Charles Dickens embarked on an affair with an eighteen-year-old actress, and that little known fact and how it affected the iconic author is explored in The Invisible Woman. Ralph Fiennes stars as Dickens and makes his second directorial effort, after his work on Coriolanus. The film is a fascinating look at a man many think they know, in a story that few knew.
Felicity Jones is Nelly, and as our film begins she meets Dickens as an ensemble player in one of his many efforts to be taken seriously as an actor. See, there's another thing we didn’t know about Dickens: He had aspirations of thespian glory that never came to be! Jones plays Nelly as a strong woman who is not easily swayed by the charms of a supremely famous, wealthy and highly articulate man. She is instead swayed over time by a natural attraction that stems from a mutual admiration of each other’s artistic gifts.
Dickens is, by all accounts, happily married with a bevy of children that he dotes on in his palatial English estate. What else is shown in Fiennes' film is that Dickens was the rare man of his day who was as famous then as he is now. He could not walk down the streets of London without getting noticed. And considering there was no television, movies featuring newsreels or any other means for his face to get out there, it speaks volumes as to this man’s immense celebrity.
Fiennes has shot the film in the most beautiful of ways and as a period piece that feels quite modern in scope. Abi Morgan’s screenplay does a fantastic job of capturing the book by Claire Tomalin, and its characters are rich and full, from the smallest to Dickens and Nelly as headliners.
The issue we have with The Invisible Woman is its pacing. It’s not the longest of films, yet through its plodding through its plot, it never quite picks up the speed it needs in order to capture the frenzy of a forbidden love. Fiennes is a gifted filmmaker and we expect much from him as the years turn into decades for the man who became M in Skyfall. It’s just perhaps he bit off a little more than he could chew by also starring in a role as iconic as playing the author behind some of literature’s greatest works.
As an actor, Fiennes is impressive as Dickens and Jones meets him note for note in her portrayal. Our The Invisible Woman review also quite enjoyed how Fiennes uses flashbacks and flash forwards to tell his story, giving his tale a feel that is all the more resonant when we know how the past affects the present.