Synopsis: Nelly (Felicity Jones), a happily-married mother and schoolteacher, is haunted by her past. Her
memories, provoked by remorse and guilt, take us back in time to follow the story of her
relationship with Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) with whom she discovered an exciting but
Release Date: January 24, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Romance
British period films can be very stodgy affairs. One would think that movies about an era full of sex, death, and betrayal would be interesting. However, in the case of The Invisible Woman, one would be wrong.
The Invisible Woman is the story of legendary writer Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes from Coriolanus) who, at the height of his literary success, meets a young woman named Nelly (Hysteria‘s Felicity Jones) during a production of one of his plays. Nelly is a star-struck fan, and the pair slowly strikes up a very chaste romance that is complicated by two facts; Charles is already married with several children, and the innocent Nelly is less than half his age. Charles must deal with his loveless, failing marriage while Nelly comes to grips with the fact that she is the least talented actress in her family of thespians. As both of them deal with the everyday crises in their lives, Charles and Nelly continue their scandalous affair.
The screenplay for The Invisible Woman was adapted by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, Shame) from Claire Tomalin’s book about the real-life Ellen “Nelly” Ternan. Ralph Fiennes handles the directorial duties himself, and The Invisible Woman is not a poorly made film by any stretch; it’s wonderfully shot, the costumes and sets look great, and the entire cast turns in more-than-competent performances. It’s just that the movie is a tedious bore. The problem is in the material, and the treatment of it by the writer. It’s possible that the film could be too close to reality – that maybe the affair between Charles and Nelly really was as boring and lukewarm as it is portrayed. In this case, The Invisible Woman would have done everyone a favor by spicing it up a bit, adding a little tension here and a little conflict there. The first two acts unfold in a monumentally sluggish fashion, leading the viewer to question whether anything has happened at all over the course of the film. The last act picks up the pace a bit, but there’s a lot of British accented-dialogue that has to be sat through to get there, and not even the stunning visuals and the standout acting can make up for the dawdling pace.
A great deal of patience is required for The Invisible Woman, and that patience is rewarded somewhat as, eventually, things do start to happen in the narrative. In fact, the last act of the film has a couple of bonafide seatbelt moments, with events occurring that are both shocking and emotional. Unfortunately, by the time the film starts rolling, it’s almost over. Watching the film is a lot like watching a play…a long-winded, drawn-out play that’s heavy on dialogue and short on substance. The Invisible Woman is a treat for the eyes, but not for the brain.
For as slow-paced and plodding as the story is, The Invisible Woman is beautifully shot, with painstaking attention being paid to every detail. Cinematographer Rob Hardy (Boy A, The Forgiveness of Blood) lights every scene with motivated light, and every scene looks unaffected and genuine. Natural light is used whenever possible (and manufactured when it is not possible), keeping with the period feel of the film and making every frame look like an old photograph. Hardy uses a palette of earthy, warm colors that also helps keep the viewer in each and every moment. The exquisite visuals are captured by mostly handheld cameras that are fluid without being spastic, so the whole film lives and breathes. Hardy’s photography gives the audience something interesting to look at while the film broods glacially along, helping to keep the first two acts of The Invisible Woman from being a complete waste.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Ralph Fiennes
- Screenwriter(s): Abi Morgan
- Cast: Felicity Jones (Nelly)Ralph Fiennes (Charles Dickens)Kristin Scott Thomas (Mrs. Francis Ternan) John Kavanagh (Rev. William Benham)
- Editor(s): Nicolas Gaster
- Cinematographer: Rob Hardy
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Ilan Eshkeri
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA