Is it possible to chart your own future when society believed differently? Is it possible to love someone that you're not truly meant to be with? What happens when reality sets a lot sooner than anyone anticipated? That's part of the premise behind the DVD release of "The Invisible Woman," which had the potential of being a memorable story but it missed the mark due to a few story related issues.
"The Invisible Woman" followed Nelly (Felicity Jones) who was a very happily married mother and schoolteacher, but she often found herself stuck in the past as she remembered her torrid affair with famous author Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes). The relationship started when she was a young woman who spent her days with her family of traveling theatre actresses. Her sisters and her mother relished being on the stage, but Nelly never truly fit in as a performer. When she crossed paths with Dickens, her mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) tried to keep them apart until she realized that Dickens might be the means to secure her future; even though he was already married to someone else. Nelly initially resisted to being Dickens' mistress, but she found herself drawn deeper into his world without even realizing it. She even got to know his friend Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander) who had his own unconventional views on marriage and managed to understand Dickens' bold choice to put an ad in the local newspaper explaining why he separated from his estranged wife for his own reasons. For a while Nelly and Dickens were truly happy, they just managed to overlook the impossible odds of their situation since they could never be openly together. As time passed, Nelly's future and past collided a little too often. Will she be able to to put the past behind her for good?
In terms of questions, the movie posed a few that were reasonably answered, but the plot's unclear focus sometimes made the story a little hard to follow because it repeatedly bounced between the present and the various flashbacks Nelly had. The story also took a little too long in answering the self imposed question of following the rules or breaking them as often as possible. The main characters repeatedly asked themselves whether they should follow their hearts or the rules rather than simply taking a decisive leap of faith for themselves. That decision would've helped to maintain viewers interest a lot longer than them wondering what was going to happen next. The movie would've also been better served if there was one central narrator instead of two, which should have been told from Nelly's point of view only rather than a few standout pieces told through Dickens' eyes. Nelly was remembering the past and it should have been told entirely through her eyes alone. It was also a shame that the supporting cast didn't get much of a chance to shine either, since they often welcome moments of respite between the sluggish main story point of Nelly and Dickens' slow building relationship. Scott Thomas' brief performance as Nelly's well meaning mother allowed her to ground Jones' seemingly naive character as she faced a harsh reality of her circumstances. It was also nice to see Scott Thomas and Fiennes to share a few scenes together after "The English Patient," which also made viewers wonder why Dickens didn't go after Nelly's mother instead of her since she seemed much more the character's type. As a director, Fiennes had a great attention to detail, but he needed to choose a stronger story for his next feature film; whenever that will be.
As breakout performances, Jones and Fiennes led the pack, even though their characters' on-screen relationship didn't generate too many sparks. Jones provided the youthful Nelly with a sense of innocence and strength as she tried to overcome her emotional pain of her past with Dickens. She made Nelly's naive nature seem endearing, even when it bordered being a little too unrealistic. Her strongest scene came when she confronted her mother about being promised to Dickens as if she was a bargaining chip. Jones showcased a wide array of emotions that went from anger to utter shock in the blink of an eye. A close second came towards the end of the film when she finally told a colleague about her relationship and revealed all of her pent up emotions as she came to terms with everything just in time to be with her husband. Jones has the ability to go a long way in Hollywood as long as she chose her next film wisely and continued to take as many on-screen risks as possible. Fiennes, on the other hand, had the challenging task of providing a lot of context to a literary icon by bringing up some potentially unflattering plots in an effort to humanize him. For the most part, he succeeded in making Dickens more than a famous writer, but as a flawed man who chose to live by his own rules for better or worse. Fiennes provided some of the film's humor in his performance, but he might be better off on his next movie choosing one role so that he can better focus on the task at hand. He should choose to just entirely direct or just be a leading man, so that either role doesn't get diminished the next time. Let's hope that will be the case.
Verdict: The movie had the potential to tell a strong story, but it's uneven pacing and familiar plot twists ended up marring it before it truly got off the ground.
DVD Score: 2 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: R
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)