Ralph Fiennes is turning out to be a wonderful director. In fact, his direction is the best thing about his second film, The Invisible Woman. Fiennes plays Charles Dickens in cinema’s retelling of the writer and his mistress, Ellen Ternan. The film is based on the book by Claire Tomalin. Fiennes’ drama explores the affair between “Nelly” and Dickens, gracefully and elegantly. The film moves effortlessly; a solid example of expert storytelling. Nelly is intelligent. She adores Dickens’ work but she is more than just a fan girl. She understands his work on a deep level, something that binds the lovers together and encourages his initial infatuation with her. There is always a danger when adapting from real life, especially a story like this that is tangled up with rumour and uncertainty, but The Invisible Woman is told so well and is so absorbing that accuracy hardly matters. The film is very authentic and rich in textures of the period. The Invisible Woman is lavishly detailed, from the actresses’ bonnets to Dickens’ parchment; all of which lead to a sense of cinematic sincerity. The film studies the difficulties of Dickens in balancing his love and his work. The romantic relationship is viewed in flashbacks but the intertwining of the present and the past helps maintain the film’s fluidity.
Fiennes is a delightful Dickens. His natural on-screen charisma merges with that of his character whilst a certain level of turmoil and ferocity bubbles just under the surface. Felicity Jones is captivating as Nelly. Her career is developing well and we are steadily starting to see just what a capable actress she is. She maintains both a shyness and a self-certainty that makes her character likeable and complex. It is always a delight to see Kristin Scott Thomas on-screen and here she shows as much conviction and consistency as ever. The most exciting performance comes from Joanna Scanlan who is effortless and mesmerising as Catherine, the wife of Dickens. The Invisible Woman isn’t doing anything extraordinary and it may turn out to be somewhat forgettable but it is held up by the wonderful acting talents of Jones, Fiennes and Scanlan and is carried by the extravagance of Ralph Fiennes’ direction and vision.
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