Finding a way to captivatingly draw in audiences who are attracted to your subject matter, as well as emotionally keeping them intrigued and engaged in the plot, can be a difficult process for storytellers, particularly when they reflect on, and utilize, their own life tales. Not only was this the case for famed author Charles Dickens as he was writing his renowned work in the 1800s, but also for second-time director Ralph Fiennes, who helmed and starred in the new biographical drama, ‘The Invisible Woman.’ The romance movie, which opens in select New York theaters tomorrow, smartly chronicles the romantic woes of one of history’s greatest scribes, as he learns that his deepest personal desires aren’t enticing fans as easily as his well-received literary work.
Starting off in 1885, ‘The Invisible Woman’ follows a British school headmaster’s wife as she directs boys practicing a play by Charles Dickens (Fiennes) they’re set to perform. She appears distracted during the rehearsal, but refuses to reveal the source of her pain. It’s revealed the woman is Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), whose thoughts then flashback almost three decades to 1857, in the midst of the Victorian Era. An 18-year-old Nelly is trying to start her acting career, with the aid of her two older sisters and their mother, Frances (Kristin Scott Thomas).
While Nelly doesn’t have the same level of natural acting talent as the rest of her family, she soon captures Charles’ eye after appearing in one his plays. Despite the fact he’s married and is the father of 10 children, the celebrated writer soon falls in love with the young actress. The two soon develop an emotional and physical affair, despite her initial apprehensions. They then embark on a 10-year love connection, despite the scandalous nature of their relationship. While Nelly does question the appropriateness of their association, which quickly sparks a scandal, her mother pushes her to continue with the liaison, as she fears for the security of her youngest daughter’s future. While Charles explicitly expresses his desire to be with Nelly, the at-times naïve actress does realize that the acclaimed playwright can’t emotionally or financially support her in the way she desires.
While Fiennes infused the famed novelist with a natural eccentricity, who’s continuously battling whether he should act in a way to please himself or his fans, the filmmaker elicited a gripping, compelling performance from Jones in the title role. The up-and-coming actress, who first proved her talent in the romance drama genre, the 2011 film ‘Like Crazy,’ effortlessly proved she understood Nelly’s motivations throughout her adulthood. During the times she appeared on-screen with her co-star and director, the actress subtly emphasized her characters’ desire to be loved for who she truly is, as well as be accepted by society. Nelly’s innocence quickly becomes jaded when she realizes she can no longer deny her feelings for Charles, no matter what the cost is to her reputation.
The majority of the biographical romance drama is strongly anchored in, and also fervently driven forward, by the unraveling of Nelly’s self-consciousness about what other people think about her. With resilient dedication, Jones flawlessly showcased the self-resiliency her title character has taken on after accepting Charles’ love. While Nelly remained bitter that she could never fully disclose the closeness and importance of her relationship with the poet, Jones naturally embodied the pain her character long endured privately over her loss of Charles.
In addition to Jones’ brilliant and captivating performance as Nelly, ‘The Invisible Woman’ also perfectly emphasized the love between Nelly and Charles, as well as the obvious obstacles that stood in the way of them publicly acknowledging their relationship, through its costumes. Michael O’Connor, who created the stunning costumes for the romance drama, spectacularly captured the passion of not only Victorian Era England, but also the forbidden desire between the actress and writer.
The designer crafted stunningly modest dresses for Nelly as she was angling to find her break into acting. While the vibrant but modest dresses the young actress sported as she was being introduced into Charles’ world of literary and stage productions reflected her strong desire to be accepted, her physical demeanor understandably shifted as she grew to admit she would never be recognized into his society. O’Connor designed more conservative outfits for Nelly as she grew older, particularly for when she was directing the play at the schoolhouse. Covering herself in traditional dresses impeccably showcases how she has completely shut herself off from the criticisms and curiosities of a public eager to know about her personal associations.
‘The Invisible Woman’ is a subtly emotional depiction of a famed writer who readers have longed believed to have known quite intimately. As the director of the biographical drama and portrayer of the praised Charles Dickens, Fiennes offered a rarely seen but important insight into the scribe’s personal life. With the help of Jones’ dazzling performance as the writer’s mistress, as well as O’Connor’s intuitive costume designs that radiantly reflected the characters’ emotions, the drama is a spellbinding exploration of how one of the greatest authors of all time enthrallingly entices his fans and personal relationships.