Review: The Invisible Woman

Ralph Fiennes’ second shot at the director/star gig after Coriolanus, this misleadingly-titled costume drama (drawn from Claire Tomalin’s book) looks lovely and features passionate playing.

Nelly (Felicity Jones) is unhappily married in the later 1800s when we meet her and watch as she flashes back on how she met Charles Dickens (Fiennes, at odds with the fatter, ruddier, uglier real author) as an 18-year-old when he made the acquaintance of her mother Frances (Kristin Scott Thomas) and sisters. At the time, Dickens was unhappily married (is there a pattern developing here?) to Catherine (Joanna Scanlan, very strong), the mother of his many kids, and the smart and rather gorgeous Nelly found herself falling for the great man as he too swooned, despite the dangers.

When word gets out, Dickens tries to distance himself from the scandal, but it doesn’t work and soon he and Nelly escape prying eyes in conservative London, change their names and make new lives for themselves, a story airbrushed out of history as she becomes the so-called ‘invisible woman’ of the title (and not, of course, the Jessica Alba character from The Fantastic Four).

Truly ‘a tale of woe’, as Nelly herself says, there’s fine playing here by Fiennes and Jones (who looks ready to rip her bodice early on), but the whole thing is so terminally glum and hand-wringingly agonising that even the most forgiving Dickens groupies should find it doesn’t live up to its (great?) expectations.

The Invisible Woman is in cinemas now.
Rated M



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