In the 1850s, Ellen Ternan is a minimally talented actress who catches the eye of the hailed British author, Charles Dickens. Bored with his intellectually unstimulating wife, Dickens takes the educated Ellen as his mistress with the cooperation of her mother. What follows is a stormy relationship with this literary giant who provides her with a life few women of her time can enjoy. Yet, Ellen is equally revolted by Charles' emotional cruelty and determination to keep her secret. In that conflict, Ellen must judge her own role in her life and decide if the price she pays is bearable. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
Ralph Fiennes both directed and stars in the film (playing Charles Dickens). See more »
Very early in the film, Dickens introduces a member of his acting troupe as "Mr. Berger" with a 'soft' g, like a j; moments later, he refers to him as "Mr. Berger" with the g pronounced as 'hard'. There's no explanation for this discrepancy. See more »
Mr. George Wharton Robinson:
Our boys' curriculum is very wide. They perform a short play at the end of every term. Theater's an abiding interest of my wife... Ah, Mary, tea if you please.
Mr. George Wharton Robinson:
Through the open door... Nelly, where were you? Mr. Benham has been here since 3:00.
I'm so sorry. Mr. Lambourne has been organizing the boys best he can.
I lost all sense of time...
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The full cast list (in order of appearance) is presented in the style of a Dickens era theatre programme, with contemporary font and the performers' names preceded by "Mr." or "Ms." See more »
Claire Tomalin in the first chapter of 'The Invisible Woman' states that Fanny and Ellen Ternan were 'written out of any biographies of both Dickens and Trollope for two reasons'. Thus begins the first of many such statements that appear in her book that can't be substantiated. They are not facts, though they are presented as such. Any film based on the book by Claire Tomalin can only suffer, as a result, from the contrived nature and bias of the book.
Yes, this film might have deserved 8 out of 10 stars if Charles Dickens hadn't come into it and it was simply the story of a writer who had an affair with a much younger woman in Victorian times. Unfortunately, Charles Dickens does come into it, and he has come into it in every review and discussion about this film that I've come across so far.
The first half of Ralph Fiennes' film is beautifully nuanced and utterly delightful in its depiction of Dickens and his relationship with the Ternan family through their mutual love of the theatre. The developing relationship between Dickens and Ellen Ternan is persuasive in cinematic terms - until the downward slide into the mire of 'revelations' spawned by Claire Tomalin's book.
Stripped of meaningful content, cinematography and acting too become meaningless. When a film is based on the life of a great writer like Charles Dickens, those who have read widely about his life and work will feel uneasy when he is taken out of context to fulfil a role aggressively forced on him by a less than scrupulous biographer or film maker. The so-called 'revelations' translated to film may spoil one's enjoyment of the narrative as surely as a poor reproduction of a film to a DVD will lessen its visual impact.
Those who have a scant knowledge of Dickens and his work will more easily be able to accept this depiction of the writer and the man. Sadly, like many of the reviewers and others connected with the film, they may then become 'authorities' on Charles Dickens and his relationship with Ellen Ternan and busily go about perpetuating myths and gross distortions of facts.
By the time furtive sex is followed by the birth of a still-born child and Dickens and Ellen appear unchaperoned in the Staplehurst train crash, the sound of Nelly's pacing on the beach at Margate becomes deafening - but also more laboured. We enter a world of fiction that is not nearly so satisfying. The more the film strays from known sources and tries to convince, the more it flounders and disappoints.
One can only hope someone makes another film about Charles Dickens that does justice to everyone in a way that saves them from the strange mix of sexual fantasy and strident feminism they appear to have generated. While Nelly suffers from not having the reasons for the secrecy surrounding her relationship fully explored, Catherine Dickens and George Wharton Robinson suffer in a way that endows them with as much character as a couple of wooden pieces in a jig-saw puzzle.
'It would be a far, far better thing' to stay home and read Dickens' letters or other biographies or more of Dickens' own writing or Edward Wagenknecht's 'Dickens and the Scandalmongers' or more about the social and sexual mores of the time than to believe this film could possibly shed any light on the less stereotypical but more complex relationship between Charles Dickens and Ellen Ternan.
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