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Middletown Transcript
  • Movie review: ‘The Invisible Woman’ is a Dickens of a film

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  • Who knew that Charles Dickens was a rock star? That’s the way he’s drawn by Abi Morgan in her screenplay for “The Invisible Woman” (based on the book by Claire Tomalin). That’s also the way he’s presented by director and star Ralph Fiennes. The Dickens of this film was a wildly popular fellow who had throngs of audiences waiting to see him direct and act in plays, and many more waiting for the next chapter of whatever serialized book he was in the midst of writing. He was celebrated by all, and he loved what he was doing.
    Yet if everything that he was doing was known about by his fans, some of them might have turned on him. Little did anyone know at the time that the beloved author was embroiled in an affair with a much younger woman. If revealed back then, the scandal would’ve likely been bigger than that recent business of Justin Bieber visiting a brothel.
    The story opens many years after the central events had taken place, looking out onto a desolate beach in Margate, England, in 1883, where Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones) roams the sands, as she does every day, lost in thought, dreaming of the past. It seems that she only comes out of her self-induced reverie when she’s at her tiny school, where she directs young kids in a play. It’s not till the film shoots back a couple of decades that we begin to understand what has led friends and family to believe that Nelly’s come to be emotionally “absent” from practically everyone around her.
    It was back then, somewhere around the time that Dickens was writing “Great Expectations,” and was regularly doing public readings of his works and staging plays based on them, that he first set his eyes on Nelly Ternan. She was one of three actress daughters of Frances Ternan (Kristin Scott Thomas), all of whom traveled the road on the acting circuit. It appears that it took about a blink of an eye for him to fall for her, even though he was 45 and she was 18.
    But there’s an easy explanation, one that goes beyond a famous and wealthy man suddenly accosted with a romantic fantasy. Dickens is shown to be bright and boisterous and full of life when he’s with his public, but the fire had long gone out at home, where his quiet, drudge-like wife, Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), goes about life, unaware that her husband has lost interest in her.
    The secret romance between the middle-age author and the young would-be actress wasn’t easy to get started, although she had already been a fan of his novels. While Dickens seemed to easily put his own family on the back burner, there was Nelly’s powerful and outspoken mom to deal with. There was also the fact that Nelly was so young she didn’t know how to react to his advances.
    Page 2 of 2 - And so to the good news and bad news, most of it involving acting. Joanna Scanlan is absolutely heartbreaking as Catherine, and will no doubt bring tears to some viewers, especially when she pays a visit to the woman who is unwittingly taking her husband from her. Kristin Scott Thomas hasn’t yet done a bad film performance, and her record remains unblemished here. Ralph Fiennes turns in one of his strongest pieces of acting with a full-bodied, well-rounded portrayal of a man caught up in emotional chaos. But Felicity Jones, who is certainly too old for the part – it’s been a long time since she was 18 – plays an actress who doesn’t know how to act and, unfortunately, does it convincingly. Many of her scenes are painful to watch, though there is one bit, with Dickens and Nelly whispering to each other late into the night, that’s spellbinding.
    The best part of all of this is that Fiennes, in only his second attempt at directing a film, has progressed wonderfully. His first, “Coriolanus,” was an interesting experiment but had more to do with acting than all around filmmaking. He’s now learned not only where to place his cameras for best effect, but also when and when not to move them, and he’s gained an understanding of how and why to jump from an establishing shot to a close-up.
    This is a sad and beautiful love story that would have been better with a stronger leading actress. But at the very least it should entice people to read some Dickens.
    Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
    THE INVISIBLE WOMAN
    Written by Abi Morgan; directed by Ralph Fiennes
    With Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas
    Rated R

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