Prolifically ponderous, what could have been a scintillating, titillating love story, never leaves the “shadow”, foggy plodding scenario of a genius gone awry, a young woman bereft of options, encouraged by her mother to fall from grace, into the arms of a married man, twenty-seven years her senior. The man was Charles Dickens (1812-1870); the woman, Ellen “Nelly” Ternan (1839-1914).
Ralph Fiennes stars and directs “The Invisible Woman”; Felicity Jones depicts beautiful, bright “Nelly”, the youngest, least talented, of three actor sisters, managed by their mother “Frances Ternan” (Kristin Scott Thomas); what should have been a riveting, hypnotic attraction between two fine minds (possibly it was) leading to profound intimacy, lacks a modicum of chemistry or fire; just tedious, tiring stares and sighs.
The fecundity and brilliance of Dickens’ prose is unquestioned in the laurels of fascinating, formidable literature; he understood, dissected every aspect of the human condition; even today his prescience is redolent with timeliness. But “Dickens” in “The Invisible Woman” is rather buffoonish, insensitive, cruel and utterly selfish. His treatment of his wife “Catherine” (Joanna Scanlon) of over twenty years, the mother of his ten, minimally viable, children, is abominable; she is corpulent, bland but possesses tremendous integrity in her banishment.
Felicity Jones saves the film from total banality. She is stunning as the kept woman; tormented during the affair, and long after Dickens’ death. Hers is a portrait of extreme gravitas; a life hidden, unrecognized, shunned by conventional nineteenth -century society; Jones’ luminosity gives Nelly a rich complexity, sadly lacking in the depiction of Charles Dickens.
“The Invisible Woman” should have been a “far, far better film than it was”; absent is the Dickens, who modeled “Estella” in “Great Expectations” after Nelly: “I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement…..”. This soaring, scorching passion is “invisible” in a taste of history, worthy of so much more.
TWO & 1/2 STARS!!