Review: ‘The Invisible Woman’ considers Dickens in love

In "The Invisible Woman," Felicity Jones plays Nellie Ternan, a young woman who had a secret relationship with Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes). Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
In “The Invisible Woman,” Felicity Jones plays Nelly Ternan, a young woman who had a secret relationship with Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes).
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

There’s a very stiff, very Masterpiece Theatre movie that could be made of the tale of Ellen “Nelly” Ternan, an actress who spent a chunk of her life as the secret mistress of Charles Dickens. The author, 25 years her senior, kept her well-moneyed for the rest of her life. That being a kept woman might have done psychic damage is less attractive, but this isn’t a character assassination. The refusal to see Dickens as either hero or villain fuels “The Invisible Woman.” Written by Abi Morgan (“Shame”) from Claire Tomalin’s 1990 book, and directed by Ralph Fiennes, who plays Dickens, it avoids the easy angles that could comfort those who wish to hate or love him.

When we first see her, Dickens is dead and Ternan (Felicity Jones), now married, is a cold and driven woman who mounts stage productions of her ex-lover’s work and defends it as more than frivolous entertainment. Flashbacks reveal a more open, smiling young girl, who’s amazed when her mildly impoverished family — led by mother Kristin Scott Thomas — gets to meet the traveling author. Fiennes’ Dickens is a mirthful, giddy epicure who stays up all night and hides only when pounding out his dense, complex novels. He’s unhappily married and perks up when pretty young Ternan takes an interest in his work.

But it’s not that simple. Their relationship is more business transaction than passionate amour. Even after they’re official an item, they rarely touch, and each caress has the intense hesitancy of forbidden love. Dickens’ wife (Joanna Scanlan), though, isn’t a miserable harridan; she’s simply not right for him. At one point, she pays Ternan a visit. It’s not a confrontation, but an attempt to know eachother and reach an understanding. You get a glimpse into a melancholy woman who knows she won’t have the same freedoms as her husband once he announces their break-up.

The script could still be turned into a wan prestige picture, which is why Fiennes’ direction is most welcome. Fiennes previously helmed a hectic “Coriolanus,” but he slows down here without losing any intensity. Even in the happy-go-lucky early days of Ternan and Dickens’ courtship, the camera is weighed down, as though it too were constricted by the clothes and mores of the era. The film doesn’t head towards a predictable conclusion but becomes more abstract — a union that’s only briefly consummated and always informed by the period. With Jones, we watch a woman — and a performance — become both more defined and increasingly limited, until there’s almost nothing left of her. Ditto the filmmaking.


Federal mediator joins Met Opera labor talks as…

Unions representing the orchestra and chorus of the Met Opera agreed to have a federal mediator join labor talks on Thursday as a threatened lockout loomed.


Winning $7 million New York lottery ticket sold…

The only $7 million winning New York Lottery ticket for Monday's Cash4Life drawing was sold at a Queens 7-Eleven, officials said on Tuesday.


Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.


Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…


Review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' is a refreshingly…

Marvel is sitting so high on a cash mountain that it's now thrown $170 million at the relatively obscure and very silly title "Guardians of the Galaxy."


Review: 'Get on Up' is a war between…

James Brown finally gets his own boring biopic with "Get on Up," but the Godfather of Soul puts up a good fight against the usual cliches.


Review: 'Child of God' finds director James Franco…

James Franco's 11th directed feature is a noble but sloppy adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "Child of God," about a feral mountain man (Scott Haze).


Review: Alex Gibney's Fela Kuti doc 'Finding Fela'…

Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney takes on Afrobeat god Fela Kuti in "Finding Fela," but fails to capture his unique essence.


Yankees land Stephen Drew, Martin Prado at trade…

Yankees land Stephen Drew, Martin Prado at trade deadline


Playing the Field: Valentine's Day coupling edition

  It’s Valentine’s Day, a day created by Hallmark to make couples spend loads and loads of money on candy, flowers and gourmet dinners. Or…


Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.


Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.


What do you wear to a career fair?…

Getting that gig starts with presenting the most polished and memorable version of yourself, so refer to our expert fashion advice.


Editors pick: Margiela's finger armor ring

These cool rings from Maison Martin Margiela are designed to overlap over the finger, covering each joint like armor.


Givenchy champions diversity

Riccardo Tisci's uses a variety of ethnically diverse ladies for his spring campaign including Erykah Badu.


Don't settle for the hotel fitness center with…

Travelers who want to skip the hotel fitness center in favor of local gyms that may offer better equipment, classes and amenities can turn to…