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By Kate Smith
14th April 2014

Set at the lifetime height of Charles Dickens’ (Ralph Fiennes) celebrity, 'The Invisible Woman' follows the writer's affair with young actress Nelly (Felicity Jones). However, this is worlds away from a traditional love story - if introspective and uncomfortably real films interest you, this story of Dickens and his young lover may be right up your alley.

‘The Invisible Woman’ is based on the true story of Dickens’ young mistress who, while always hidden and never acknowledged, stayed with him until he died. The story is told through the older Nelly’s memories. As a young lady, her family were all on the stage, performing in Dickens’ plays and appearing at his after-parties. There’s an attraction to this bygone age where intense and creative people talked and sang and caroused ‘til 5am.


Nelly and Charles’ romance is subtle; so much so that we’re left wondering how they realised it at all. It’s a painful film. Fiennes’ energy as Dickens’ creative genius, tempered with the agony of loving someone he shouldn’t, reinforces his pure acting talent. There’s a harshness to Dickens – going after someone he wants to the detriment of his wife and family. The moment he boards up the door between his and his wife’s rooms is particularly jarring, as is sending his wife to explain his feelings to Nelly. Nelly’s reluctance to be a part of it, and her abhorrence of the thought of living in sin emphasise the social attitudes of the time. There are elements of sexism, socialism, and charity woven in, but these are secondary to the love story.

Kirsten Scott Thomas as Nelly’s mother is her usual business-like self. She manages to convey volumes of suspicion and calculation in one fleeting glance. The rest of the supporting cast also turn in excellent performances. Silence and tension are used very effectively, with entire scenes without dialogue.

Fiennes’ acting may be superb, but his direction needs work.

Fiennes’ acting may be superb, but his direction needs work, as many of the film’s nuances may be wasted on less attentive audiences. The editing could have been smoother, with present scenes cutting uncomfortably into the flashback storylines. The cinematography is excellent, with expressive close-ups and sweeping wide shots. The score is minimal and unobtrusive, while the lighting is always soft, with the sets lavish and complete.

It’s a difficult film to watch, partly because it moves rather slowly, and partly because at times we have no idea what’s going on. You really have to pay attention as you’ll be lost if you miss but a moment. The visual appeal of the film is less important than the words of it. It’s a film about a love of language and stories, and learning that there’s a mystery and hidden depths in all of us.

If you’re looking for a couple hours of easy entertainment, this film is not for you. If you’re looking to learn a bit about yourself, and a great writer, you could do worse than ‘The Invisible Woman’.

RELEASE DATE: 17/04/2014
RUN TIME: 1h 51m
CAST: Ralph Fiennes
Felicity Jones
Kristin Scott Thomas
Tom Hollander
DIRECTOR: Ralph Fiennes
WRITER: Abi Morgan
PRODUCERS: Christain Baute
Carolyn Marks
SCORE: Ilan Eshkeri
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