The Invisible Woman (12A)

Oct 01, 2014
Cranbrook Film Society

A sumptuous study of the underside of Victorian society, beautifully shot and superbly acted, detailing the effects on a young actress of an illicit affair with Charles Dickens.

“For all the period trappings and restraint, [Ralph Fiennes] is dealing here with raw and primal emotions”. Geoffrey MacNab – Independent.

Ralph Fiennes | 2013 | 111 minutes | 12A

Film notes:

This is Kent’s very own romantic period drama the opening shot is of the marshes at Margate and the final denouement is at Staplehurst.

The film examines the effect of Victorian mores on a young woman’s development. Nelly is an 18-year-old actress who attracts the amorous attention of a Charles Dickens some 30 years her senior.

The development of Nelly’s character and situation is the central theme, as the attentions of a man like Dickens moves her from fixed ideas of propriety and career aspirations into a new half-life of a clandestine relationship in which she does not fully understand her role. Dickens on the other hand is played as an unfailingly energetic and charismatic character who adheres to the public morals of the day, and displays great reticence, before embarking on an extra-marital affair.

Although the story is driven by the central characters they interact with a wonderful supporting cast who perform an exemplary job of putting the central characters into context by providing depth and roundness to the picture of Victorian family life. Tom Hollander provides mischievous humour as Dickens’ collaborator, while his unmarried status, living with his long-term lover raises the issue of socially acceptable relationships. Joanna Hollander as Caroline, Dickens’ overlooked wife is heartbreakingly powerful when she is forced by Dickens to visit Nelly and give her a present from Charles. Kristen Scott Thomas as Nelly’s mother exemplifies the ‘Victorian‘ approach by snoozing, or is it just pretending to; in order to set her daughter up with the renowned author?

The atmosphere of Victorian England is superbly evoked by the wonderful costumes of Michael O’Connor, captured by the cinematography of Rob Hardy (‘Shadowdancer’) who lights and frames so exquisitely and intimately that you can understand what it is to be a voyeur. This ensemble approach allows the audience to understand the relationship from the points of view of both protagonists.

The understated style of direction reinforces the aura of Victorian reticence and by using individual shots to speak volumes he avoids the need for constant exposition and explanation. The same visual economy is used for the big set pieces of a beautifully composed horse-racing scene and in concentrating on the individual victims of the train crash. The structure of the film may seem complex but it moves at a deliberate pace which allows the audience time to invest in and care about the characters and their situations.

This is Ralph Fiennes second film as actor/director and after his uneven debut with ‘Coriolanus’ he is on top of every aspect of this film making it a deeply affecting and rewarding piece of cinema.

David MacKerrell


            Weighted vote 76.8%