The London release of The Invisible Woman may be a few days off yet, but a preview at The Hospital Club is always a welcome addition to the week. As well as directing this Oscar nominated flick, Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter, Schindler’s List) also plays charming, selfish and utterly composed Charles Dickens opposite Felicity Jones’ version of young mistress, Nelly.
This adaptation of the book by Claire Tomalin tells a familiar story of an adulterous love affair – the passions, domesticity and compromise. Dickens is charismatic and affable, winning over Nelly’s pragmatic mother, ably played by Kristin Scott Thomas who previously acted alongside Fiennes in The English Patient. Jones is well cast as the now married school teacher, haunted by an unorthodox hidden life having been the lover and muse of one of the most famous men of her time. Her new life with her husband and child is weighted down by past traumas and the need to reveal her secret.
It’s easy to see why Dickens was captivated; as a young actress Nelly is lively, thoughtful and passionate about his novels. Jones’ handling of a confrontation with Dickens’ put upon wife is mature and convincing, and the situation in which all involved find themselves is complex, painful and all too easy to comprehend. Whilst the main story is the love affair, Fiennes also looks at the social codes Dickens adhered to, his unconventional attitudes and sympathetic stance as a social commentator. The lovers meet at a rehearsal of Wilkie Collins’ play The Frozen Deep, and the epilogue closes both the play and the movie itself with a pleasing and poignant symmetry.
The film is well paced and beautifully shot, with some memorable scenes and skilful acting. This Victorian set drama has highs to its lows, and even though the subject matter is at times pensive, the backdrop of life on stage, play acting and new thinking makes for an enjoyable few hours’ viewing.