Film Review – The Invisible Woman
With The Invisible Woman, Ralph Fiennes brings what is clearly a passion project to the screen; both in his role as performer and director. In his role of film director, he conceives a rich Dickensian tapestry for his talented ensemble of actors to draw the audience in.
We open as Nelly (Felicity Jones) storms across a sparse beach, frantic and harried but slowing to a listless calm as she watches the ocean. We find she is late for a rehearsal of a play with a group of the village boys. This frames the main story that takes us back several years prior as a younger Nelly is in rehearsal for another play, together with her sisters and mother (Kristen Scott Thomas), but this time with the actual author of the play Mr. Charles Dickens, (played with exuberance and wisdom by Mr. Ralph Fiennes). The ladies look up to him with admiration and reverence. The group celebrate a successful opening night and Dickens is drawn closer and closer to Nelly, much to the apprehension of Nelly’s mother and quiet disdain from Dickens’ weary wife (Joanna Scanlan), a woman who has lost all appreciation for her husband’s celebrity and wishes for a quieter life. Their affair grows stronger and more passionate and, as anyone who has read English literature will tell you, there are many strained moments where the couple fight their urges and desires whilst rumours swirl around London society.
British period dramas are known for their meticulous attention to the design detail from bygone eras and The Invisible Woman certainly lives up to this standard. The intricate costumes, elaborate city streets and grand homesteads atop rolling acres, complemented by formal, yet beautifully composed cinematography all adds to the world as if conjured from the crisp pages of a Dickens classic. One impressive sequence is when Dickens himself wanders through the seedier side of London, and the despondent, desperate faces of the poor and the young leer out of the darkness. This links us directly with works like Oliver Twist and you get an idea of where Dickens drew his inspiration.
The romance which weaves it way through the film could have been inspired by Great Expectations, as there is much hushed talk of a married man, a revered celebrity no less, continuing an affair with a younger woman. It appears Nelly was so ‘invisible’ as the title suggests that there is no indication of whether she ever did actually inspire any part of Dickens’ works. Nevertheless, Jones is luminescent in the title role, waifish and innocently spellbound by her gentlemen caller, who just happens to be one of the most famous artists in history. Her character’s journey from first meetings and flirtations to the woman we see several years later continuously returning to the bleak beach of the opening is what really forms the crux of the story and we are drawn along with her. She is naïve, yet strong and we see her resolve in the final moments of the film. She herself knows the weight of being the ‘Invisible Woman’, a mistress and a companion, and it is her journey to acceptance and catharsis that Fiennes and the whole filmmaking team bring to such vivid life.