Before you get all excited, note, this is The Invisible Woman, not The Other Woman. There is no Cameron Diaz, no scenes with Nicki Minaj, and no white bikinis on the beach. There is a beach, but it’s used more as a metaphor for the long journeys we take in life. There’s also a cheating husband, but rather than a smooth businessman, The Invisible Woman’s masculine flirt is the famous author, Charles Dickens. This film is the story of Dickens’ affair with the young actress, Nelly (Felicity Jones). Through Nelly’s eyes we meet Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) during the height of his popularity and follow him as he gives public readings, goofs off with his children, scratches genius onto paper, and publicly humiliates his wife. It’s a slow film, weighed down with dialogue and lingering stares, but it also includes some fabulous Dickensian passages and some of the deep philosophies which punctuate his works.
Ralph Fiennes plays Dickens as a very energetic, indecisive man. He’s surrounded by admirers, which makes the business of an affair a little more complicated. As famous as the character is, the movie still finds time to show Dickens’ pity for England’s poor, fallen, and orphaned. In this respect and others, I admire how the film tries to stay true to Dickens-the-person rather than Dickens-the-BBC-character. Snippets from some of his most popular books, like A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations, all make it into the movie, showing how various moments in his life influenced his writing. How true these connections are I can’t say, I wasn’t there when he wrote the stories (I wish I was, but that’s a problem between me, H. G. Wells, and my cardboard time machine). Taking the movie as a movie and not as a biography, I respect the makers’ attempts to breathe life into Dickens’ famous stories by grounding them in the main character’s personal beliefs and experiences.
As for his mistress, Nelly, her emotional range rivals that of an apple: sitting perfectly still, showing a bruise or two, and sometimes weighing the pros and cons of rolling off the edge of the counter. In terms of facial expressions, Nelly just didn’t have much variety. Even with an emotional rollercoaster for a story, she stays relatively stone-faced, red-eyed, and open-mouthed throughout most of the affair. Dickens’ wife, Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), however, could make any statue look like a wailing, blubbering mess. Dickens treats her more like a neighbour sleeping in his house than a wife, but through it all she is composed, stoic, and the picture of poise. Among a cast of flirty, desirous cheats, Catherine takes one for the Dickens family team every time she enters a room.
The Invisible Woman was nominated for a 2014 Oscar for costume design and it’s not hard to see why. The costumes, sets, and cinematography are all very artistic. For me the movie falls short in terms of over/under-acting from the principle characters. It’s a talkie-film, with some beautifully poetic lines thrown in – I’m sure in honour of Dickens – but as a whole it settles around a 6/10.