Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Invisible Woman (2013)

The Invisible Woman, the second directorial effort of Ralph Fiennes, is a beautifully polished tale of the private life of one of histories greatest writers Charles Dickens, played by Fiennes himself.

Based on a book by Claire Tomalin, Abi Morgan's screenplay concerns the author's infatuation and subsequent affair with Nelly Ternan, a much younger woman, impressively played by Felicity Jones. The story is largely seen in flashback - though thankfully it is not the intrusive, disorientating or irritating device it can often be here - from the perspective of the now married Nelly, who is tormented by the memories of her affair and still living in its shadow.

Morgan draws with great insight on the gender inequality both of the period and at the heart of the central character's love; namely that the progressive, pioneering 'freedom' from marriage that Dickens and his friend and contemporary Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander) happily embrace is simply a liberty for men only. With this in mind, the film's title may allude to Nelly, whose role in Dickens life has never really been acknowledged and was certainly not by the man himself, but it can also be directed at Catherine, Dickens' long suffering wife played impeccably by Joanna Scanlan, an actress more familiar for her comedy roles in several TV and film projects.

The invisibility theme is further pushed by Jones' performance; expressing so much without saying a word. She's a fascinating screen presence whose subtle playing is the perfect foil for Fiennes restrained yet intricate direction. When she breaks into a smile near the end of the film, you feel your own heart lift as you understand she has reached, in modern parlance, some 'closure'.

Fiennes himself gives a splendid performance and uncannily looks like the image of Dickens we instantly bring to mind. Stepping away from his sometimes cold screen presence, he brings the warmth of a showman here whilst simultaneously tapping into the tortures of a great artist. 

An engrossing, solemn and handsome period biopic which benefits greatly from Maria Djurkovic's exceptional design.

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