In The Shadow of a Literary Giant

The Invisible Woman

invisible_woman

Director: Ralph Fiennes

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander, Michelle Fairley, Michael Marcus, Joanna Scanlan, Amanda Hale

Oscar nominated actor Ralph Fiennes follows up his first directorial debut Coriolanus with a film adaptation of a novel by Claire Tomlin, The Invisible Woman, which centres on the brief but doomed love affair between celebrated Victorian novelist Charles Dickens and Nelly, known as Ellen Tiernan a young actress half his age, superbly played by Felicity Jones of Hysteria fame.

As a director Ralph Fiennes seems to find his creativity for portraying the Victorians from skilled director Jane Campion with many shots looking like a pastiche of scenes from her hit film The Piano and the later film Bright Star.

bright_star

As an actor Ralph Fiennes who also plays Charles Dickens is naturally brilliant, inhabiting a larger than life famed author who clearly desired literary attention and popularity more than the love of his massive family. Fiennes does not detract from Dickens reputation as one of the greatest Victorian novelists of the 19th century who went to detailed efforts to document through literature the hardships of the British population during the Industrial Revolution especially illustrated in his celebrated novels Oliver Twist, Hard Times and Bleak House.

This period of literature especially during the mid 19th century and which characterized the reign of Queen Victoria was called realism and along with Dickens, spawned a range of brilliant social commentators including George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell and Thomas Hardy who all highlighted the plight of the poor especially the appalling conditions of child labour.

The Invisible Woman centres on the period of friendship between Charles Dickens and the novelist and playwright Wilkie Collins, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilkie_Collins played by Tom Hollander who wrote The Woman in White in the early 1850s. Here Dickens, aged 45 in rehearsal for The Frozen Deep, a collaborative play written with Collins he meets the gorgeous Nelly (Ellen Tiernan) along with her supportive mother Mrs Frances Tiernan played by Kristin Scott Thomas, ironically Fiennes co star in the Oscar winning film The English Patient.

Despite being married with 10 children, and a 27 year age difference Charles Dickens is scandalously captivated by Nelly who is actually the same age as his oldest son Charles Junior played by Michael Marcus and there is an awkward scene in the film whereby Dickens Sr having resolved to separate from his wife is walking with Nelly through Hampstead and comes across his oldest son Charles, who discover the affair.

Unfortunately as illustrated in The Invisible Woman the love affair between Dickens and Nelly is short lived but she remains the muse for Estella the female character in Dickens most accessible and famous work Great Expectations (published in 1861) who Pip falls in love with.

Felicity Jones adds layers of subtlety and complexity to the character of Nelly a woman who becomes the object of the great novelist’s affection who soon realizes that their affair is ultimately doomed and she will be the one most affected by this relationship. For Dickens, his love of fame and literary greatness trumps any real devotion to Nelly and naturally divorce was out of the question. Nelly realizes that she is living in the shadow of a literary giant and her role in his success will be eclipsed by his fame and popularity.

The Invisible Woman is a thought-provoking and intelligent period piece which at times lacks variety and is slow moving. Fiennes as a director makes a fatal decision not to use much soundtrack in the film, which clearly needs a more suitable musical score. At least The Invisible Woman got nominated for Best Costume Design but lost out to The Great Gatsby at the 2014 Academy Awards.

Viewers get the impression that if Ralph Fiennes had been content on just playing Dickens and letting a more experienced director like Mike Newell or Jane Campion remain behind the camera, The Invisible Woman could be a remarkable film.

This engaging if slightly uneven period piece is saved by the sustaining performance of Felicity Jones who carries the subject matter of the film beautifully. The Invisible Woman is recommended viewing but not absolutely essential and will most likely appeal to literary scholars who are familiar with the writers of Victorian social criticism and ardent Charles Dickens fans.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens

 

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