Review: The Invisible Woman
It’s hard to resist the passion of Ralph Fiennes. Just as with Coriolanus, his first stab at directing, The Invisible Woman is presented with a sense that Fiennes is not only especially familiar with his subject matter, but that regards it with reverence and passion, supremely enjoying his work and sincerely endeavoring to share that love.
Like, Coriolanus, it is likely a literary, tragic story less well known. And like that Shakespearan film adaptation, for better or worse, Fiennes takes up the lead role.
Here Fiennes tackles the illicit affair of author Charles Dickens’ with the beautiful young actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), with whom he worked.
Fiennes is Dickens, playing him as a warm, exuberant, and easily excited man; we meet him directing a play, more than happy to introduce his large family to some new additions – his wife is last to be noted, funnily and ominously. He seems to gallop around, as elated to say hello and welcome people as he is to helm a stage show.
It’s wonderful to watch Fiennes prance about and charm in an honest fashion, though a bit distracting. As the film is entirely about Fienees, it would seem fitting that Dickens too makes everything about Dickens. He is immediately taken with a new addition to the cast; she is an admirer, a breath of freshness, curiosity, and beauty who enters Dickens world.
Curiously, Fiennes frames their meeting and affair as a flash back, for the story opens with Ternan a teacher (though still the same, young beauty), and an often distracted one at that. She reflects upon their tale as those around her, including her husband, take note of her despondency.
On whole, the film isn’t especially novel, so to speak, rather restrained and not particularly passionate, but is buoyed by two great leading performances. Indeed, Fiennes cares more about the words and they way in which they are spoken and relayed than he does about any spark, physical or otherwise. You feel his excitement, you understand her longing, but the two still seem detached.
Nonetheless, Fiennes does well to keep the film interesting, even at a slow pace, and when his character is loathsome, he is still winning. And watch closely, for there is a strange moment where Dickens seems to inhabit a maniacal Walter White, but it’s fleeting and never broached again.