Having tackled Shakespeare in his directorial debut, Coriolanus, esteemed filmmaker Ralph Fiennes has now tried his hand at exploring the life of Charles Dickens, as he delves into the illegitimate relationship the much celebrated wordsmith had with a young girl named Nelly, played by Felicity Jones.
Fiennes himself takes on the role of Dickens, who when at the height of his fame, meets the beguiling actress, tempting him away from his wife Catherine (Joanna Scanlan). Eventually the infatuated couple, though 30 years apart in age, enter into a secret affair. Although they appear to have fallen hopelessly in love with one another – with a reputation to uphold – both parties seem cautious of their coming together becoming public knowledge, despite Nelly’s mother Frances’ (Kristin Scott Thomas) suspicions.
Fiennes understates the romance remarkably, as although the entire film studies their love, it is never sensationalised or overtly cinematic, remaining naturalistic and believable as a result. We get the impression there is something of a reluctancy between the pair to go forth with their relationship, and it is this humanisation that allows for the film to work, as it’s easy to revere somebody like Dickens, whereas Fiennes, helped along by a wonderful Abi Morgan screenplay, grounds him successfully. Jones steals the show however, displaying her unique abilities as an actress, as she moves effortlessly between flashbacks. And you can always get a sense for how old she is supposed to be and at what stage in the story we are at.
Expressing a troubled love not too far removed from those Dickens used to write of himself, The Invisible Woman does grow to be tedious at times, similarly to what Coriolanus unwittingly managed. However, unlike that picture, Fiennes offers more humility second time around, taking less of the limelight and presenting a stage for which Jones can shine – and that she most certainly does.