Guest Review: Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman

Hi everyone! Today we’ve got a review from a new FlixChatter contributor Ashley Steiner.
We both share an appreciation for period dramas, so today we’ve got her review of one of them,
straight from Telluride By The Sea Film Fest in New England. Thanks Ashley!


TheInvisibleWoman

It was a happy coincidence I was able to attend the 15th annual Telluride by the Sea film festival in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in September. Most of the films came straight from the Toronto Film Fest, and 12 Years A Slave was already generating Oscar-worthy buzz; however, I chose to see The Invisible Woman. I’m such a sucker for period film dramas, and, admittedly, not knowing much about Charles Dickens’ personal life, I couldn’t resist. I wasn’t aware of this beforehand, but the film was based on Claire Tomalin’s book, The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens. The film focuses on Dickens’ (Ralph Fiennes, who also directs) early success as a novelist and showcases his desire as an aspiring playwright and actor. Dickens meets Nelly (Felicity Jones), an 18-year-old struggling actress, along with her traveling acting troupe, consisting of her mother and two sisters, beginning Dickens’ and Nelly’s torrid and long-term love affair.

The film moves back and forth between Nelly’s present and her memories of Dickens, albeit somewhat jarringly. At the beginning we are introduced to an agitated Nelly, furiously walking, alone, alongside the seashore, while simultaneously receiving flashes of children preparing for a school play. Dramatic 19th Century classical violin music accompanies Nelly’s inner turmoil. During her walk, she unexpectedly bumps into an older gentleman, who starts probing her about her work and rumors of her acquaintance with Dickens. Thus begins the confusing and rather long 111 minute The Invisible Woman.

TheInvisibleWomanStills

We soon learn Nelly is a depressed and frustrated married schoolteacher, and is plagued by her past with Dickens. Through her memories, we see glimpses of their time together, starting with the first time they met: acting together in a play. Nelly soon becomes enamored by Dickens’ passion for writing and his vigor for acting. After a few not so subtle hints from Dickens’, Nelly has a heart-to-heart talk with her mother about becoming his mistress, the implications and how her life will change, essentially she would become an invisible woman to society. Nelly concedes and becomes Dickens’ mistress and ultimately muse for Great Expectations. All the while, his wife and multitude of children are left to suffer the aftermath through heated rumors and scandalous tabloids exposing Nelly and Dickens’ affair. Nelly’s gilt is short lived when she discovers she is pregnant with Dickens’ love child. Learning the happy news, Dickens’ publicly separates from his wife, burns any letters or legal documents pertaining to his marriage and whisks Nelly away to France to live our her confinement. Sadly, she miscarries and they are brought back home to England. Through some great epiphany, unbeknownst to the audience, Nelly decides she’s had enough of Dickens’ and we are thrust back into her present, never to see Dickens again.

Things are obviously strained and tense between Nelly and her husband; however, the audience is still subjected to an unnecessary and jarring love scene. We witness more walking scenes, where it’s half heartedly suggested she works out her guilt and marital frustrations. However, as the film nears a drawn- out conclusion, Nelly seems to make her peace with her affair and admits her true relationship with Dickens to her husband. All seems to be forgiven, and at the very end we learn Nelly has had another son, and he is the star of her play, coincidentally written by Dickens.

In summary, provided that the script, storyline and direction were lacking, the actors rose above the road blocks and were exceptionally good. However, I truly believe Fiennes should’ve stuck with acting rather than overextending himself as the director. The cut scenes were clumsy and downright harsh, and the flip between Nelly’s present and her memories didn’t quite weave a strong enough thread for viewers to jump to a conclusive ending. All in all, this film is, at best, a 2.5 out of 5 reels. If you’re curious to know more about Dickens’ life like I was, feel free to add it to your Netflix queue, but it probably wouldn’t be a shame if it’s #180.


2.5 out of 5 reels

PostByAshley


Thoughts on this film? Would love to hear what you think!

18 thoughts on “Guest Review: Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman

  1. Nicely done Ashley. I would say welcome to FlixChatter but it’s not my site…. I am good friends with our host, though, so… Welcome to FlixChatter! Lol
    I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

    • Thank you! I didn’t realize it was a novel until after I saw the film. I’m curious to read it as well and compare it with Fiennes’ interpretation, but, like you, the list keeps growing!

  2. Though Fiennes is hardly the first filmmaker to tap into the restrictive social codes and barbed double-speak of the Victorian era, he renders it all with an unusually sharp, unsparing touch that, at its best, recalls Terence Davies ’ film version of “The House of Mirth.” In one of the film’s most piercing moments, Dickens entreats Nelly into a late-night accounting session following a charity benefit, her mother drifting in and out of sleep — or pretending to — on an adjacent divan. Although no garments are removed, it’s a more carnal scene than anything in “The Canyons.” No less remarkable is a later encounter between Nelly and Catherine Dickens, in which the spurned wife makes it clear to the mistress that she knows everything that’s going on, without ever saying a word to that effect. The exceptional Scanlan (a Brit TV vet whose film credits include “Notes on a Scandal”) at first seems to be playing the bosomy Mrs. Dickens as a rather unfortunate scold from whom the writer would be fortunate to escape, but over her handful of scenes she deepens and humanizes the character until she emerges as a surprisingly tragic figure.

      • Thank you, Cindy! Fiennes certainly has a knack for playing slightly odd and larger than life characters. He was perfect as Dickens; although, there were a few scenes where the mannerisms of his voice resembled Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series.

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it! It had so much potential, but it just wasn’t focused enough for me. The acting was great, however.

  3. Hi Ashley, welcome to Flixchatter as a fellow guest contributor!
    I like period dramas too. It sure sounds like it would have a lot of promise with Dickens as a main character, so it’s too bad it’s disappointing.

  4. Thank you! You’re exactly right. I was very excited to see it, but ended up being very disappointed. It was interesting to learn more about Dickens’ personal life, but I think the direction could’ve been tighter. Maybe save it for a rainy day?

    • Hey Ashley, thanks again for this awesome review! It’s really too bad Fiennes’ direction was lacking here, though I thought his debut Coriolanus was decent. Glad to hear the acting was still good all around, he’s a great actor and I also like Felicity Jones.

      Btw, Prairiegirl is Becky Kurk in case you didn’t know ;)

Join the conversation by leaving a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s