The Invisible Woman (2013)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop
  
Famous novelist Charles Dickens is best known for his startling insights into human nature and his memorable characters. Though his books adhered to the social norms of the time in terms of morality, his private life showed a sharp contrast to the honorable, chaste heroes of his imagination. His biggest secret was his mistress, Ellen Turner.

  

His name is famous throughout Europe, and his presence fills theater halls. Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) is happily engaged in playacting and directing when he first encounters the introverted Nellie (Felicity Jones). An aspiring actress following in the footsteps of her mother and older sisters, Nellie’s small voice won’t carry far past the first row, but her genuine appreciation of the material wins his affection. Soon, Dickens finds reasons to attend her various plays in London, arousing the suspicions of her mother (Kristen Scott Thomas). Knowing her daughter isn’t likely to have a career in the theater, and knowing Dickens is not a man to engage his heart lightly, she gently nudges Nellie toward accepting the subtle romantic overtures of the famous author.

  

Nellie is uncomfortable with his attentions and the decidedly immoral lifestyle of his friend Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander), who cohabitates with his mistress and has no interest in marriage. Her situation is complicated by her own inability to discern her true feelings for the writer, and Dickens’ increasingly alienating behavior from his wife (Gwendolen Chatfield).
  
Some of the decisions made in the filming process are unusual; the scenes transition back and forth between present-day Nellie in her marriage and life after Dickens’ death and her earlier years. It's a little jarring at first but reaches a certain kind of harmony as we watch her past unfold as it simultaneously impacts her future. The film is an exploration of past events through a woman's inability to come to terms with her present situation, but it concludes on a happy note as, liberated from her burden, Nellie lets go of him at last. There’s an odd absence of music at key moments, offset by jarring violin pieces that to me felt out of place. It’s at times too quiet, while at other times being too loud. However, it’s a beautifully written exploration of one woman’s emotions in dealing with a complicated series of events. This Dickens is much as the genuine man was – both immensely charming and shockingly cruel (the instance where he forces his wife to deliver Nellie’s birthday present has a particular sting to it). Nellie is more ambiguous and withdrawn than the flamboyant, enthusiastic, attention-seeking Dickens, much as the real woman was – difficult to read but also understandable in her choices.
  
The costuming and set design is lovely, and there are many references to Dickens’ body of work, including the significance of the final chapter of Great Expectations and childhood experiences that inspired the actions of David Copperfield. I would have preferred a bit less sensuality and a lower rating (PG instead of R) but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It does not condone nor excuse adultery yet allows us to understand the complex individuals behind it. It haunts you both with its simplistic beauty and its enigmatic characters. It exploits the vices of Dickens without painting him as anything other than he was – a brilliant but fallen man aspiring to greatness.

 



Sexual Content:
Two sexual encounters (we hear noise as they “finish” and the woman rolls off the man; the other has gentle, barely visible movement and is a head and shoulders shot); we see part of a woman’s bare backside through an opening door, but she quickly covers herself and turns.

Language:
None noted.

Violence:
A train overturns in an accident, leaving people injured and dead (one is seen crushed under a fallen car, others have blood on their faces).

Other:
Dickens hypnotizes people for fun as after-dinner entertainment. Characters engage in an adulterous affair; another set of characters lives together outside of marriage.


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