‘The Invisible Woman’ sounds like a science fiction movie but it’s actually the title of a new romantic drama about the repressed love affair between the middle-aged novelist Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) and teenage actress, Nelly Tiernan (Felicity Jones). He was 45 and she was 18. The clandestine relationship would last 13 years until the author’s death. In a less competitive award season, ‘The Invisible Woman’ would garner more Academy Award nominations than its one accolade for Best Costume Design by Michael O’Connor. Not only does Fiennes star as the celebrated author but he directs this Victorian period-piece with a sure-hand. It’s a beguiling drama that examines a complex relationship that sadly could never be fully consummated.
As the story begins, we see a woman bedecked in an elegant Victorian dress, taking a walk along the seashore. Her footsteps are vigorous and disquieting. She is late for her obligation to direct a Dicken’s play at the school where her husband George Wharton (Tom Burke) is the headmaster. Soon the beautiful woman and her story are revealed to us through flashbacks. Screenwriter Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady) masterfully shows us how the two first meet in 1857. Besides being one of the most famous novelists in the world, Dickens was an accomplished playwright. He was staging another play, ‘The Frozen Deep,’ when Nelly first catches his eye and he casts her in the production. He whispers to his theater partner Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander), “She has something.” Nelly’s doting mother (impeccably played by Kristin Scott Thomas) quickly senses Dickens’ fondness for her daughter.
This is where the story gets interesting. Remember, this is Victorian England when women had few rights. Dickens was married to Catherine (Joanna Scanlan) who bore him 10 children. Scanlan plays his portly wife with a stoic pragmatism. She is aware of her husband’s infidelity with the young woman. In one painful scene, Dickens makes Catherine deliver a gift to Nelly that she thought was for her. During the Victorian era, divorce was not an option. The illicit love affair had the potential to ruin Dickens’ career. When Nelly goes to her mother for advice, she is concerned about her daughter’s welfare but realizes there are worse fates than being a kept woman. Dickens was generous to Nelly’s financially strapped mother. This gives the arrangement a chilling undertone. It obviously made Nelly feel like a prostitute. At one point she tells Dickens, “You see a freedom I do not see.”
For moviegoers unfamiliar with Felicity Jones, she is a talented English actress on the verge of stardom with her upcoming role in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2.’ It’s astonishing that she isn’t already a household name. Her breakout role was in 2011’s indie hit, ‘Like Crazy.’ She plays a British exchange student who falls hopelessly in love with an American architect played by Anton Yelchin, while dumping his jilted girlfriend, played by none other than Jennifer Lawrence. This supporting role by Lawrence was before her career exploded with ‘The Hunger Games’ series. Jones won a special Jury Prize at Sundance for her ‘Breakout Performance.’ Graduating from Oxford in English, Jones chooses her roles carefully and is in no hurry to be famous. Here is my movie review of Like Crazy. It was one of my favorite indie films of 2011.
Ralph Fiennes is most recently known for his role as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies but his acting achievements are better represented in such films as ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘The English Patient.’ His portrayal of Dickens is superb. When Fiennes’ Dickens takes to the podium to do a public reading of his literary works, it's mesmerizing. He perfectly captures the charisma and vitality of the famous author. Fiennes also pays homage to live theater and how actresses did their best to make a living from it. ‘The Invisible Woman’ is worth seeing and is now playing exclusively at The Flicks and an art house theater near you. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/WDMHb3GetIc.