Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas
Directed by: Ralph Fiennes (“Coriolanus”)
Written by: Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”)
In a follow up to his 2009 directorial debut, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus,” actor Ralph Fiennes returns behind (and in front of) the camera in “The Invisible Woman,” the story of literary legend Charles Dickens (Fiennes) and his secret mistress, a school teacher named Nelly (Felicity Jones).
The performances in “The Invisible Woman” are one of the stronger elements of the film. Fiennes, who is a consistently strong actor, delivers again on the expectations of a solid leading role. As a celebrity like Dickens, Fiennes is able to channel not only the magnetic personality of a public figure, but the passion, intelligence and grasp of language that an author like Dickens would possess. Jones, who is still in the process of introducing herself to American audiences, is also good as Nelly. Where Jones succeeds is taking a relatively quiet and subdued character and finding areas to give her a dramatic performance. The character itself might be a little bland, but Jones does everything she can to elevate it.
The crux of the film relies on the relationship between Fiennes and Jones, a relationship humorously juxtaposed from their father/daughter relationship in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s “Cemetery Junction.” While their relationship is spoken of in a lyrical and poetic sense, there are very few moments where we actually see their love for each other physically displayed. As a result, their romance never quite hits a fever pitch and the most affecting scenes come as consequences and results of their relationship, rather than the relationship itself.
The film is at its best in its portrayal of the unease of Dickens’ affair and its toll on those around him, such as scenes where his wife and his mistress interact, as well as the coldness Dickens had to display in an effort to keep suspicions about his affair quelled. Despite these strong sections and strong performances, the relationship between Dickens and Nelly never hits those moments of intensity and therefore comes off as occasionally dispassionate. As a result, and due to some slow pacing and general dullness, “The Invisible Woman” just narrowly misses the mark.