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.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

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.

International

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.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

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.

NFL

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.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.