Some imagine Charles Dickens sitting in front of a Victorian desk, armed with quill and parchment, creating his masterpieces. A few might even envision him reciting sections of his work in front of a large audience in London. But does anyone think of Charles Dickens, one of the most influential writers in the world of English literature, as having a love life?
Ralph Fiennes does.
As director and star of the new film The Invisible Woman, Fiennes ignores Dickens the author and focuses on Dickens the husband and father. The movie revolves around 18-year-old Nelly Turnan, the daughter of a poor, single mother, and her illicit relationship with the married Mr. Dickens. Throughout the film, both characters struggle to hide their love amid rumors of adultery to no avail. This movie tries to depict tragedy between these characters, and just manages to pull it off.
The awkward sexual tension between Dickens (Fiennes) and Nelly is performed well. In one scene, Charles and Nelly are standing in front of each other, just barely touching one another. They go in for a kiss but their lips never actually meet. The effective portrayal of this awkward tension distracts the audience from the poor scene changes and the consistently odd organization throughout the film.
Fiennes’ main failure in his film arises in pacing and unclear transitions from past to present, making the plot difficult to follow. In one scene, Charles and Nelly are on a French train that crashes, almost killing them. The scene fades away with Nelly bleeding only to be replaced by a non-injured Nelly walking around her manor. Only after she begins referring to Charles in the past tense does the audience realizes that the movie has leapt a few years ahead, forcing the audience to backtrack and try to actually find out what happened during the train crash.
Unlike the typical rising action, climax, and resolution layout of most films, The Invisible Woman has many small climaxes separated by melancholic dialogue between characters. Even so, the movie gives the feeling it’s being rushed. In the span of 15 minutes, Charles divorces his wife, marries Nelly, gets her pregnant, holds his stillborn child, and has his first argument with his wife.
Felicity Jones plays the perfect Nelly, a curious girl who doesn’t know whether she loves Dickens or not. She is also battling the idea of whether or not it is right to love someone who is already married. She gets the audience to sympathize with her, calling into question the importance of marriage in patriarchal society at the time, making the film not just about an individual but about the culture as well.
Despite the many quotes from Charles Dicken’s novels and the interesting view into Dicken’s hidden affair, the film’s lack of cohesion leaves the viewer asking, “Please, sir, can I have some more?”