The Invisible Woman marks Ralph Fiennes’ second foray into the world of directing, and it does not disappoint. Written by Abi Morgan of Shame and The Hour, the film tells the true story of Nelly Ternan, an 18-year-old actress known for her secret affair with author Charles Dickens, who was 45 and married at the beginning of their relationship.
Where some period dramas can seem stuffy and uptight, The Invisible Woman follows the lead of Jane Campion’s Bright Star or Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre, with characters that seem very present, and cinematography that brings great gravity and beauty. Ralph Fiennes is incredibly charismatic as Dickens, and Felicity Jones really carries the film, making Nelly somehow impervious and vulnerable at the same time. The film cuts between Nelly’s time with Dickens and her troubled present, with Fiennes’ direction never letting the audience get ahead of the characters, instead letting the story unravel slowly and uncertainly.
Aside from the great performances from Fiennes and Jones, the supporting cast is full of acting gold. It’s nice to see Kristen Scott Thomas getting a role other than ‘uptight snob’ in a British film, bringing real sensitivity and class to the role of Nelly’s mother. Tom Hollander brings his usual spark to the film, playing Wilkie Collins, Dickens’ friend and collaborator. Honourable mention should also go to Joanna Scanlan who absolutely kills it as Dickens’ wife and the mother of his ten children.
The Invisible Woman isn’t a romantic story as such, as it focuses very deliberately on Nelly, following her through not only her relationship with Dickens, but the marriage she engaged in after his death, always keeping her liason with the author a secret. It’s a fascinating story that will have people jumping on Wikipedia to research the validity of its depiction, and overall a beautiful film to watch.
The Invisible Woman is in cinemas April 17