The Invisible Woman opens in Berlin cinemas April 24
Based on the book by respected biographer Claire Tomalin, Fiennes’ direction of fine material goes deep inside the vacuum occupied by a young woman, Nellie Ternan (Kendall) whose affair with Charles Dickens (played by Fiennes) when the writer was at the apogee of his fame skirts the physical in favour of the psychology of dependence.
The film stirs memories of the feminist subtext evident in films such as Neil LaBute’s Possession and Fukanaga’s Jane Eyre. But the beauty of Fiennes’ take lies in its depiction of a wider society in thrall to masculine charisma, back when Victoria was Queen but nearly as invisible as most of her female subjects. Dickens is the chronicler of social inequality, the friend of the sick and poor, and often full of childish fun. Yet society enables his flaws: the cruel humiliation of his chocolate marshmallow of a wife Catherine, his calm ignorance of Nellie’s mother’s qualms as he takes her daughter in recompense for male geniality.
If the film has a fault, it lies in a directorial restraint that maintains a tone of hushed Victorian propriety. In a film about the ability of words to not only evoke but stoke passion, a little more of that might not have come amiss.
The Invisible Woman | Directed by Ralph Fiennes (UK 2013) with Ralph Fiennes and Felicity Kendall. Starts April 22
Originally published in issue #126 April, 2014.