A romantic drama about Charles Dickens' relationship with his lover and muse Nelly Ternan, The Invisible Woman sees Ralph Fiennes taking on directing and acting duties.
He has delivered a handsome, beautifully set and poetically illustrated love story that also comments on the social mores and role of women in the Victorian age.
Fiennes' Dickens is a man struggling with fame and how to reconcile his public and private lives. The public Dickens is charming, energetic and easy to like; in private he's torn between a wife and a young woman he'd like to take as a lover. It's a predicament that brings out his best and worst.
While Dickens goes to great lengths to expound the virtue of Nelly and the innocence of their friendship in a letter to the local paper, his wife finds out about their separation by reading about it. As both women learn, they come second to the great author and playwright's work. Even when Nelly becomes Dickens' lover, a relationship that lasted 13 years, she must remain "invisible".
The Invisible Woman is as much Nelly's story as it is Dickens, told through flashbacks as she comes to grips with the remorse and guilt of the affair. Felicity Jones' performance is intelligent and nuanced, and while the last time she and Fiennes appeared together (Cemetery Junction) it was as father and daughter they're well suited as lovers this time around.
The issue for the rest of the cast is that Fiennes plays the only charismatic character on show, and is in such good form that he overshadows everyone else, including Nelly's mother, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, and Tom Hollander as writing partner Wilkie Collins.
Those who appreciate the golden days of the Merchant Ivory studio will appreciate the restrained tone and sense of decorum, but it leaves you wishing Fiennes had infused some of the energy from his performance into the movie around him.
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Running Time: 111 mins
Rating: M (Sex scenes)
Verdict: A ponderous but beautifully crafted love story.