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With The Invisible Woman being the second feature in which Ralph
Fiennes tackles Charles Dickens, you may say that the thespian, already
known for his love of Shakespeare, has developed a new romance with
With Fiennes at the helm, this biographical drama, based on the book by Claire Tomalin, takes a stroll into the private life of the public figure, Charles Dickens. Although The Invisible Woman positions itself at the heart of the Victorian literate, this is in fact the story of Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones); hence the title.
The bulk of this character-piece plays out as a flashback, as the narrative oscillates between the world of Dickens and the world post-Dickens. The mysterious title refers to the young Nelly, an avid-admirer of the literary colossus, as she enters into a secret affair with her idol. She spends the best part of her youth amorously involved with the writer, but given that Dickens was a lot older, it was inevitable that she would outlive her lover.
Alone with her thoughts, Nelly, dressed in mournful black, marches along the beaches of Margate like a sleepwalker in the night, tormented by the loss of her companion; she must find a way to bring that chapter of her life to a close so that she may now move on.
The picture paints Dickens as the talented and charitable man that he was, however we are also privy to a more sinister side of the wordsmith, as we learn of his malicious actions towards his wife (played by Joanna Scanlon).
The camera takes its time, as it soaks up the brilliant performances of the cast and Abi Morgan's (Shame, The Iron Lady) masterful script provides a titillating narrative, as it transports us to the Dickensian period. Ultimately, The Invisible Woman stands as a beautifully crafted piece of filmmaking, however, it somewhat pales in comparison to Fiennes' earlier, more vigorous work. Anthony Lowery
"The Invisible Woman" (2013 release; 111 min.) brings the story of how
famous writer Charles Dickens falls in love with a much younger woman,
Ellen "Nelly" Ternan". As the movie opens, we are told it is "Margrave,
1883", where we see Ellen and her husband George hang out with several
family friends, Ellen is asked (as apparently happens often) about her
"childhood" (which we later learn is really a misnomer) memories of
Charles Dickens. The movie then goes to "Manchester, some years back"
(in fact, the late 1850s), where we get to know Dickens (played by
Ralph Fiennes) as he is trying to turn his book "The Frozen Deep" into
a stage play. Then comes about the Ternan clan, mother and her 3
daughters, to act in the play. One of the daughters, Ellen ("Nelly"),
only 18 at the time, gains the immediate attention of Dickens (a
married man, and 20+ years her senior), and a slowly developing
courtship starts to play out. What will become of the attraction
between these two in a Victorian society where the rules are strict? To
tell you more would ruin your viewing experience, you'll just have to
see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: first and foremost, this movie is a tour de force for Ralph Fiennes who in addition to starring also directed this movie, I believe his debut as a director. His portrayal of Charles Dickens brims with energy. It is amazing to see how successful Dickens was in his day, truly getting the rock star treatment of that era. Second, the performance of Felicity Jones as Ellen oozes charm from start to finish. She is a veteran of the UK film and TV industry but not so well known on this side of the Atlantic. I think that can possibly change following this performance. Third, the production itself is done exquisitely and hence it is no surprise that this movie just scored an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design. Last but not least, the movie does a great job bringing the dilemma between the feelings of the two protagonists on the one hand, and the demands/standards imposed by society on the other hand. At one point, Dickens asks Nelly to share a secret with him, and she informs him that her middle name is "Lawless". When she in turns asks for a secret from Dickens, he whispers "Ellen Lawless Ternan... that is my secret", wow.
I recently saw this movie at the Regal South Beach in Miami, and even though I saw it at a weekday matinée screening, the screening was quite well attended (leaning heavily towards women, I might add). It may be there there is a strong demand for this movie, which would be great, as this is certainly a movie that deserves to be seen. Bottom line: if you are in the mood for something that is miles away from your standard Hollywood fare, and learn a thing or two about Charles Dickens along the way, you cannot go wrong with this, be it in the theater or on DVD/Blu-ray. "The Invisible Woman" is worth checking out!
A 6 or a 7? I went with 6, but would have preferred 6.5.
The film is beautifully made, which is no surprise, with beautiful costumes and scenery from the Victorian era, as well as being beautifully acted and well produced. However, although loosely based on the biographical book of the same name (The Invisible Woman), the plot line is vague and esoteric; that is, "intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest."
We see glimpses into the life and behaviors of Dickens, his mistress Ellen "Nelly" Ternan, and Dickens' wife, but the film provides little depth or detail, and certainly no explanation for the meaning of these glimpses, or even a clear time line. If you know enough about Dickens ahead of time it will make sense; if not, it will remain a mystery (such as, "what was that scene about?") unless you, as I did this morning, start learning more about Dickens' life as he lived it, including better understanding the book the film was based upon. We see otherwise unexplained glimpses into the life of Dickens and Nelly, some of which seem to be inaccurate dramatizations (poetic license?), which have little meaning on their own, and leave you wondering what just happened, and why was that important. You'll get the overall picture, but it will be like a jigsaw puzzle with many missing pieces, some of which , because of those missing pieces, are actually incorrectly put together. If you're not already familiar with the life of Dickens and Ternan, read up on Dickens before you go, or be prepared to read up on him after you see the movie. But don't otherwise expect to come up with a clear picture of anything, except that Dickens and Ternan had a long-standing affair that affected her past his death.
A jewel: the 19th century and Charles Dickens come alive in this jewel directed and starring Ralph Fiennes. The heavily garbed women, great sweeps of countryside, and living in little houses "in town," and even the poor and "fallen women" on the streets of London come to life. Charles Dickens too: a entertaining man in real life, not just in his fiction and plays. An interesting plot with sympathetic treatment: how could one have an affair in the 19th century, examined from every perspective: from the great man, who also loves his public - Dickens is a superstar - his best friend, Wilkie Collins, the mystery writer, who doesn't believe in the institution of marriage, the woman Dickens loves, her mother, the great man's wife, the whispering public, a non-judgmental vicar. Dickens seems a man for our own time. No wonder Fiennes wanted to bring him to life. Felicity Jones co-stars, and she brings virginal purity, and passion and ferocity at times to the part. A good acting company as well. The kind of production one expects from the British.
There was a film called "The Invisible Woman", a sequel to "The
Invisible Man", from 1940, but there is no connection between that film
and the 2013 version. This film is not science fiction but the story of
the love affair between Charles Dickens and his mistress Nelly Ternan.
Nelly is "invisible" in the sense that Dickens, worried about the
possible effect on sales of his books, is forced to keep her existence
a secret, even though it is common knowledge that he and his wife
Catherine have separated. Intercut with the main action are scenes
showing Nelly's later life in the 1880s, more than a decade after
Dickens's death, as the wife of a man named George Wharton Robinson.
I had previously always thought of Nelly as a gold-digging bimbo, a talentless actress who used her good looks to snare a famous, wealthy older man and lure him away from his wife. That is not, however, how she is portrayed in this film. It is, in fact, Dickens who comes off badly. As played by Ralph Fiennes (who also directed) he comes across as a jovial, fun-loving party animal, revelling in his fame and celebrity, but also deeply selfish, not only in the way he treats Catherine but also in the way he treats Nelly. Nelly herself, by contrast is portrayed as a rather serious young woman, who in many ways shares conventional Victorian attitudes towards sex. She is, for example, shocked to discover that Wilkie Collins, Dickens's friend and fellow novelist, lives quite openly with a woman to whom he is not married. She is in love with Dickens, but is distressed by her ambiguous status and by the fact that their relationship cannot be acknowledged. She is shown giving birth to a stillborn son in France, a detail which clearly betrays the film's origins in Claire Tomalin's controversial biography. I should perhaps point out that not all Dickens scholars are convinced by Ms Tomalin's thesis that Nelly bore his child. (Indeed, some even insist that their relationship was platonic). The fact that the issue is still so shrouded in mystery and controversy, however, does indicate just what lengths he went to in order to protect his privacy.
The Nelly of this film is therefore a complex character, far more than a mere Victorian bimbo, and it is a tribute to the talents of the lovely Felicity Jones, an actress I was not previously familiar with, that she emerges as someone both likable and entirely credible. Fiennes is also good as Dickens, a man uneasily aware that in leaving his wife for another woman he is betraying the family values he once so assiduously championed. (He even called the magazine he edited "Household Words"). Other good contributions come from Kristin Scott Thomas as Nelly's mother and Joanna Scanlan as Mrs Dickens. Although Catherine was the "innocent party" in the breakdown of her marriage, it is all too clear from Scanlan's interpretation just why Dickens felt unable to live with this dull, frumpy woman.
Fiennes the actor is fine, but I was less taken with Fiennes the director. The pace of the film can be excessively slow and the switches between the chronologically earlier scenes, taking place in the late 1850s or 1860s, and the later ones, taking place in the 1880s, were too abrupt and made the story difficult at times to follow. It didn't help that Felicity Jones (aged about 30) looks much the same age in the later scenes (when Nelly would have been in her forties) as she does in the early ones (when she would have been in her teens or twenties). Felicity does have a different hairstyle in the later scenes, but the purpose of this seems to have been to mark the changes in fashion between the 1860s and the 1880s, not to make her look older.
Another thing that surprised me was that the film did not deal directly with Dickens's death or with the immediate impact this had on Nelly's life. It struck me that this was one time when Nelly's status as the "invisible woman" worked in her favour; had she been openly acknowledged as Dickens's mistress she would, given the often hypocritical attitudes of the Victorians towards extra-marital sex, have found it very difficult to make a respectable marriage after the sudden, unexpected death of her protector while he was still in his fifties. (She might have found this difficult even if Dickens had obtained a divorce and made her his second wife). Possibly, however, the scriptwriters avoided any speculation of this nature because it would not have fitted in well with their view of Nelly as the innocent victim of her lover's selfishness.
The film is made in the best British "heritage cinema" style and will doubtless find favour with many fans of that style of film-making. I was, however, in some ways disappointed with it, feeling that its structure could have been clearer and that it could have dealt with this aspect of Charles Dickens's life in greater depth. 7/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw The Invisible Woman by Ralph Fiennes Monday night. The film is
about Charles Dickens; played by Fiennes, and his young lover Nelly;
played by Felicity Jones. Dickens meets Nelly during the height of his
career. The film highlights what options there were for ladies of that
time. Nelly's family was made up of lady actors with considerable
skills. These skills allowed them to book job after job. It was
determined that Nelly's acting was sub par though she was very well
read and versed in all things literate and theatric. Her mother notices
immediately Charles inclinations towards her youngest daughter Nelly.
Not only does the actual actress possess good clarity of emotions shown
through subtle changes in her eyes and facial expressions, but also
Felicity is able to perform the flat acting for her character, which
the character is accused of doing by her thespian family.
Along with her mother's immediate notice of Charles fondness for Nelly, Charles's wife Catherine notices Charles's visage as he perks up greatly in Nelly's presence. The only one not to take notice of Charles's fancy is the barely eighteen-year old herself. This lack of knowledge, however, does not stop her mother Frances from putting Nelly directly in Mr. Dickens path. Frances feels this is Nelly's best chance at acquiring resources for living a decent life. Nelly had been an admirer of Dickens's work and of his careful cultivation of the written and spoken word. When she is awakened to what is being orchestrated for her, she feels greatly unjust for the loss and cruelty Dickens exhibits towards the mother of his numerous children, Catherine, as he pursues her instead.
The film speaks to the trials many women have gone through over the ages; of not being in a social standing equivalent to men, of not being allowed to pursue work and lovers with the same nod of approval and understanding society allows for men, and of not being paid the same as men for the same work. Options given to ladies, even educated and cultivated ones, resort to the comforts their bodies offer in flesh, mind, and spirit. Men are free to roam the cabin and go out into the greater world to frolic as they wish. Meanwhile the women, Dickens's wife and his lover, are left with plenty of resources; a place to live, children, and food, but these ladies are not seemingly able to go in search of ambitions of their own. Their lot is to wait for the attentions of one selfish but successful man's desires and whims.
The saving grace for Nelly in the film is that she very much loved Dickens, he left her in good standing as far as her material needs, and their love was quiet enough that it didn't harm her reputation as she was simply his kept woman. She goes on to live a full if haunted life, remarries, teaches school children acting, and has a child with her husband.
It is a film that speaks to the ages. Charles's success in career and in becoming more than he was as a child, is a prominent feature of Dickens's life as portrayed in this film. He was gregarious, charming, and well sought after to speak, read, and act his writings and plays. The artist felt emptiness in his personal life, though he soared in his career's success. His poor wife Catherine was left wearily trailing in his path. Still a living breathing artist, he found new heights to experience in his new love. I don't know that the human condition, that seeks happiness in coupling with another, is ever one that is fully satisfied. A delicious film all around with room to ponder life's what ifs.
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.
"Every human creature is a profound secret and mystery to every other."
In this follow up to his directorial debut, Coriolanus, Ralph Fiennes directs himself as Charles Dickens focusing on a specific period of his life rather than on a full blown biography. I am a huge fan of Dickens' work and have read many of his novels, but this film focuses on his later years after he had become a successful and respected writer. He was a very popular figure during the Victorian Age and we get glimpses of this here in The Invisible Woman as he struggles to hide his affection for a teenage stage actress he encounters named Nelly Ternan (played by Felicity Jones). Dickens is married, but he finds no fulfillment in his wife who doesn't understand his work. But since he's such a public figure, he must keep his affair a secret which is something Nelly finds hard to accept. This period piece stands out visually thanks to the beautiful costume design and setting which transports us to the Victorian Age. The Oscar nomination for achievement in costume design was well deserved although it lost out to The Great Gatsby. The performances from Felicity Jones and Ralph Fiennes were superb and the chemistry between them was strong, but the major issue with this film has to do with its slow pacing. The film is a little less than two hours long, but it feels like much more. However it's hard to resist this film due to the charm that Fiennes' Dickens evokes on the viewer. We have read his novels where he bears his soul about his troubled and difficult past (David Copperfield is my favorite work of his and it is his most autobiographical one), but I really never pictured him as this successful writer who enjoyed the spotlight and had such charisma. Its that very essence of Dickens that got me through the movie.
The Invisible Woman was adapted by Abi Morgan from Claire Tomalin's book and it focuses on Dickens' affair from Nelly's point of view as she dealt with the pain of their secret relationship despite having a privileged life. Everything about this period piece looks beautiful, but still it feels like its missing something and I quite can't figure it out yet. I can't fully grasp the mystery as to why Nelly accepted to live this life while internally she despised herself for it. The film doesn't bear her soul, but only shows signs of this externally through her strong performance. She is troubled and despite her admiration for Dickens' work we don't see that same passion in her eyes that he shares for her. The supporting performances from Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander, and Joanna Scanlan do lift the movie. Scanlan plays an important role as Dickens' wife as she comes to grasp the reality of her husband's affair. It's the poor way she's treated by Dickens that turns her off. However, Dickens is so charming that it's hard not to like him. Scott Thomas plays Nelly's mother and she is the one that convinces her to accept the life Dickens offers her. The film explores this complex relationship and it succeeds in most part thanks to the strong performances but it still fails to engage us more in their world. Just like Nelly's repressed emotions, the film at times feels repressed and doesn't quite manage to open up for the audience.
I did not plan to see this film, feeling that seeing 'The Invisible
Woman' did not offer me anything unexpected, however a quirk of fate
meant that I was fated to see it. This is rather appropriate, since
fate seems to play an important part in this film.
Film opens on a beach. A woman is striding along it with a most purposeful gait. However she has rather a distracted manner about her. As the film develops, through long flash-back scenes, we learn about her earlier life.
The woman, really no more than a slip of a girl, is Nelly, played by Felicity Jones. Nelly is an actress, part of an acting family. A play is the device which causes Nelly to meet the famous writer Charles Dickens, played by actor Ralph Feinnes.
This film is a true story of how their meeting changed their lives. In style it reminded me of 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' (1981). Like that film, this one too jumps backwards and forwards in time. However, unlike 'TFLW', this film is not a film within a film. Although, having said that, the play where they met, does set the tone for the film. This is of course a story of fatal attraction, however there are no bunny-boilers in this film. Here rather, the protagonists, play out to the full, the hand dealt by destiny.
The film is set in the Victorian era. This was a time of high moral standards that restricted freedom in social behaviour. It was also a period of much (secret) hypocrisy. All this is captured well in the film. Captured too, is the keen eye of Charles Dickens, which made him justly famous. This is shown well in a key scene.
Charles Dickens was very famous, and his celebrity-status has an almost modern-day feel to it. He is a larger-than-life character, the life-and-soul of the party, a real party animal. Other actors could have played the role, the excellent Simon Callow has in the past, however one year on from his title-role in 'Lincoln', once again Ralph Feinnes becomes the character he is playing. Not for one moment do you doubt that you are seeing Charles Dickens in this film.
Wilkie Collins, a friend of Dickens, is played by Tom Hollander. This supporting role is well played by this versatile actor. Last year, he impressed this reviewer, with his two contrasting roles in 'About Time' and 'Byzantium'.
While the men in this film are shown enjoying life to the full, the same cannot be said about the women. In the title role, and completely deserving of her top billing, Felicity Jones gives a pitch-perfect performance. We see an innocent girl mature, realize the realities of her situation and the times, but at the same time remaining gutsy and upholding her standards. These inner struggles are at the heart of this film.
Nelly's mother is played by Kirstin Scott Thomas, and she gives a very subtle performance, that perfectly captures the ambiguities of the situation, and the time. Joanne Scanlan, has perhaps a very hard role, playing Mrs Dickens. She is the mother of his large brood of children, some still young children. However the scenes between husband and wife show that they are very different and convey problems in the marriage. Mrs Dickens seems a rather stoic figure. She is not portrayed very sympathetically, but rather as dull, quiet and unimaginative. In this film, the part of Mrs Dickens, was never going to be an easy or sympathetic one, but Miss Scanlan delivers a believable and poignant one.
All of the women in this film show that they are trapped by their environment. Their choices are limited, and this is shown well in the film, as well as by the actresses playing their parts.
The last film I saw at the cinema, previous to this, was 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Agent'. Like that film, this one too is directed by one of the actors, and also directed well too. Mr Feinnes demonstrates a fine directing eye. I particularly liked, the slightly disconcerting shots; the complete silence that emphasised the enormity of the passion, the extreme close-ups that reinforced the concept of memories. Even the short horse race scene, which at first seemed artificial, ended authentically, and very cleverly conveyed the anticipation, immediacy, and speed, of a race. From the first bustle onwards, costumes and all other aspects of this period drama seemed truly authentic and without a wrong note. Bravo! Mr Feinnes, Bravo!
This thought-provoking period-drama has elements of love, romance and tragedy. It is a perfectly crafted piece of work and a fitting tribute to all involved. True story. 10/10. Bravissimo!
Watching this excellent subtle film develop provides an antidote to the standard wham bam don't bore the audience movies, the ones that get all the attention. This is gorgeous to look at, and it is thoughtful and fascinating for Dickens enthusiasts. Yes, it does take its time; it does challenge an audience to pay attention. It reveals another aspect to Charles Dickens genius, and it does so without adjusting our pleasure in the extraordinary books he wrote. To give ten stars is partly political, because this film does not merit an absolute score. But it gets its ten because others have rated it too low. The evocation of an 'early modern' life is beautifully suggested. The excellence of Claire Tomalin's fascinating book, on which the film is based, is only broadly sketched. The film would need to be a long running series to adequately explore and contain the book's riches. Fiennes has taken a broad brush because he has to. If it stimulates an audience to explore further then the book will flesh out some of the questions that remain hidden in the film. The real person that was Charles Dickens cannot be fully comprehended in a book or a film about him, but his energetic complexity and his constant invention of other lives is revealed in both. Neither the film or the book moralises or attempts to blame; what we see and read about is complex, and aspects of a very great writer are understood and revealed.
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