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The Invisible Woman - DVD Review

The Invisible Woman

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

DESCRIBING The Invisible Woman as exactly the type of film you may have been anticipating could either be viewed as a criticism or a compliment depending on how you approach it.

Ralph Fiennes’ second film as director is as well acted and beautifully presented as you’d expect and steeped in classic, or period values. It’s also earnest and intelligent.

But while that will certainly satisfy many who see it, the film also lacks any real surprise element and quite often struggles to engage as emotionally as it should.

The story, adapted from Claire Tomalin’s biographical novel by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, Shame), chronicles the secret affair that took place between Charles Dickens (also played by Fiennes) and young actress Nelly Turnan (Felicity Jones) at the height of the former’s celebrity.

It unfolds from Nelly’s perspective as she reflects upon it some years after Dickens’ death while staging a rendition of The Frozen Deep, the production on which she first met the revered author.

And it examines both the complexity of a relationship that had to be conducted in secret as well as the social implications for it’s lovers – one a renowned celebrity who attracted attention and adulation wherever he went, the other a young woman on the rise whose reputation would forever be tarnished if word got out.

In the latter regard, Morgan’s screenplay contains some interesting comparisons with contemporary (or tabloid) attitudes to affairs, while also exploring the moral dilemmas at play within the time.

And it gives its actors plenty to work with. Jones expertly combines her passion for Dickens with the pain of having to remain a secret (the consequences of which extend into her subsequent marriage years later), while Fiennes invests Dickens with typical gravitas and an inner turmoil born from his own inner conflict (given that the affair prompts the unravelling of his marriage).

There’s notable support, too, from the likes of Kristin Scott Thomas as Nelly’s protective mother, Tom Hollander as Dickens’s friend Wilkie Collins and, most notably, The Thick of It‘s Joanna Scanlan as Catherine Dickens, whose own heartbreak and dignity are laid bare for all to see in arguably the film’s most potent scene (as she returns a gift).

As commendable as all of the above is, though, The Invisible Woman is easier to admire than it is to like. The restrained manner of its direction suppresses the passion and eventually undermines the tragedy of what took place. A pivotal moment in their relationship late on may draw a gasp but struggles to draw any tears.

The result is a period romance that’s high on style but lacking in emotional clout or genuine staying power. It’s worthy but ultimately a little dull.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 111mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: June 16, 2014