Review: The Invisible Woman – Visibly Great Direction, But The Emotion's Harder To See
Ralph Fiennes offers a unique perspective on the life of one of the world’s most beloved authors, allowing us to see who was behind the literary masterpieces. Adapted from Claire Tomalin’s biography of Dickens, the film depicts his highly speculative affair with Nelly, an aspiring theatre actress who caught the eye of the esteemed author. Throughout the course of the film we are given an insight into Dickens’s muse and object of desire, and how our actions have consequences.
The Invisible Woman begins with Nelly as a middle-aged schoolteacher trapped in what seems to be an unhappy marriage, clearly feeling lost and an emptiness in her life. Then we are given an explanation of how she arrived at that stage in her life by going back to her more innocent and naïve days as an aspiring actress of the stage. At first the relationship between the two is born out of pure admiration for each other’s talents, but the engagement Nelly has with the works of Dickens spurs the author to pursue a path where their reputations could both be tainted.
Charles Dickens was the celebrity of his time, and as his wife warns Nelly, even he doesn’t know who he loves the most: you or the audience. Because he has been cemented in literary history as a classic author, we forget at the time he was once a high profile personality.
Both performances from the Like Crazy star Felicity Jones and the Oscar nominated actor/director Ralph Fiennes are captivating and their chemistry is evident as it conveys well to the audience. The shift from admiration to love is done at the right pace and also it is an insight to see how the affair affected their status in society.
However, the point in the film when Nelly feels like “the invisible woman” isn’t emotionally engaging because up until that point it doesn’t seem like they are actually having an affair, in the sense that they have only exchanged words and never declared their love for each other.
That said, the effects of the affair is more evident as the film progresses and with the present day scenes intersected with the scenes of the past, we understand more about how Nelly arrived at that emotional state. The role of Mrs. Dickens was a fascinating insight into how the woman of that era seemed to stand by whilst their husbands would pursue their lusts for other women. This is highlighted by the scene in which Mrs. Dickens confronts Nelly to give her a birthday present from Charles Dickens himself. Awkward but shocking.
Overall the film is very pristine in its filmmaking, the lingering shots of when Charles and Nelly first indicate they feel more than respect for each other are very inciting and tense. Also the lack of music used in most scenes gives the film more depth and clarity as it allows the audience to interpret the mood of the scene, without any guidance telling them how they should feel. The costume deign is amazing and has great attention to detail, whilst Ralph Fiennes brilliantly directs this take on the legacy of the great Mr. Dickens.
However, the film as a whole felt very much on the surface, whilst emotion is conveyed there is no emotional depth or breakaway or moment of pure expression from the characters part. The Invisible Woman is a decent period drama for those interested in the life behind the works of David Copperfield and Great Expectations.