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The Invisible Woman - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Invisible Woman
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-

You might expect a movie about Charles Dickens to make him out to be a hero. The Invisible Woman does not exactly do that, although plenty of the people around him seem to regard him as such. And I don't mean his legions of fans -- he was a 19th Century superstar, the Victorian precursor to the likes of the Beatles or Michael Jackson. But in this movie, it is much the same even with those close to him: "He is an honorable man," says one, even after he has been brazenly cruel to his wife, Catherine (Joanna Scanlan, who makes an impression).

Ralph Fiennes plays Dickens as an intermittently thoughtless man who is simply helpless in love, thanks to the arrival of young Nelly (Felicity Jones) in his life. She is cast in one of his plays, in an early scene that reveals Dickens, by this time well into middle age, to be gregarious and energetic. They get to know each other over time; it is not portrayed as love at first sight.

In fact, there is something curious about the portrayal of Dickens's relationship with his wife. Early on, there is a touch of tenderness to him, some sense of his caring for Catherine. But Catherine, a large and plain woman, is self-conscious and somewhat distant and cold, although not uncaring on her part. It's very subtle, but the message does seem to be a sense of justification to Dickens turning his attentions to another woman.

Nelly, young and impressionable, starts off with a mixture of unease and moral fortitude. When a gift is mistakenly delivered by a jeweler to Catherine that was meant for Nelly, Charles insists Catherine deliver the gift to its "rightful" recipient herself. This scene, with its confrontation in the context of Victorian repression, is very tense and well staged. One wishes the rest of the movie were executed with such finesse.

Nelly is understandably horrified that Charles would do such a thing to his wife, which lends her an air of honorability, but it is not long before her clear love for him -- won over by his devotion to her -- takes over. The two embark on a relationship that is not very well kept secret, engaged in a serious taboo for the time.

The story is told in flashback, with Nelly (looking no older but for her hairstyles) working as a teacher some years later, with an older man noticing she is a tortured soul. It is noted in these scenes that Dickens is dead; Nelly still can't get over him. We never see how she transitions to this point, however -- where she was or what the nature of their relationship was at the time of his death. There seems to be a little too much left untold. The flashbacks clearly span several years, but the later ones don't show them to have aged particularly.

The Invisible Woman is the second film to be directed by Ralph Fiennes, and it would not seem as though there's any great need for any more from him; his is a far greater actor than director. He may have a knack for getting strong performances out of people, which alone makes him adequate at best, but he is less proficient at overseeing the other, more technical aspects of the film. The editing is at times choppy. And one wonders if it he or his cinematographer (or both?) who is so enamored with the backs of people's heads.

The story here, such as it is, is engaging enough; many individual scenes are stronger than the film as a whole, but the story maintains interest. Unless you have a real thing for Victorian period pieces, though, there's no great need to see this one on the big screen. It's not a waste of time but online streaming in a few months will do just fine.

Ralph Fiennes and Felicity Jones connect in THE INVISIBLE WOMAN.

Overall: B
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