THE INVISIBLE WOMAN // Charles Dickens was a selfish man. “The Invisible Woman” depicts his true story courting of his mistress Ellen “Nelly” Ternan in 1857 while still married to his wife Catherine. With twenty-seven years separating the two of them, the film really depicts the relationship as heavily one-sided, placing Ellen in the predicament of always being the “other” woman, with no possibility of marriage and a life filled with solitude. Ralph Fiennes directs and stars as Dickens, playing the role with an exuberance that brings the character to new life. His multi-layered performance brings a new dynamic to the way you picture Dickens, making him a suave people pleaser, as well as a brooding creative type. For being one of the greatest writers of all time, you get the feeling Dickens is not very in touch with his emotions. Also, you begin to disassociate him with his body of work and realize the man had a life and before tabloids and entertainment news was a thing, gossip and newspapers were handed out from person to person.
The star of “The Invisible Woman” is by far the young and talented Felicity Jones, who continues to leave me in awe of her performances. Blossoming into a fully formed woman in the flash forwards of the film, she not only wears the brilliant period costumes with a zeal that steals the show, but her emotional presence in the role really adds a depth to her character, that Jones brings to all her roles. There’s always something going on in her eyes and her pouting lips that truly delivers the emotional connection between her character and the audience. As the innocent, eighteen year old Nelly, Jones still brings a maturity to the young girl that rings true, as she’s obsessed with Dickens’ work and far more intelligent than most people around her. Jones is a such a beautiful young woman and I cannot wait to see her in more roles and especially if she continues to progress as she does in this role.
Fiennes, as a director, never lays heavy on the dialogue of the relationship. Through most of the film, you’re not sure where the relationship is headed or how anyone involved feels, unless in a subtle exchange. The audience is experiencing the relationship as if an outsider, who only sees the characters involved at face level and never knowing the inner reaching of how they feel or what their intentions are. You’re never quite sure if Nelly actually even loves Dickens, or if she was just infatuated. You never quite sure where Dickens sees the relationship going or if there was ever any sex involved between the two of them. Besides an intimate moment of touching each others faces, there is not even so much as a kiss between them shown on screen.
There are many conflicting emotions throughout the film. Dickens’ wife, Catherine, has become appalling to him and there is a definite distance between them, as with most long standing marriages. But he’s eventually willing to throw that away to “be” with Ellen. With the backdrop of his novels, like “Great Expectations”, being written while this personal turmoil continues around him, it feels like an honor to be apart of this man’s muses while writing some of the greatest novels in the history of literature. But as great a writer as he was, you get the feeling that his love as entrapped Ellen, who is basically hidden away by the end, left to wait for a man whom she can never be married, knowing that with their huge age gap, he will be the first one to leave her. And for this, taking a brilliant young woman with an entire life ahead of her and stealing her love without much choice in the matter, hence the name of the film “The Invisible Woman”, it returns us to my opening remark in that Charles Dickens was a selfish man.
[Directed by Ralph Fiennes] [R] [111 min] [25 December 2013]