The Invisible Woman (Ralph Fiennes, 2013)
In his second directorial outing, Ralph Fiennes brings his adaptation of Claire Tomalin’s book The Invisible Woman to the screen. The title character is eighteen year old Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), who has an affair with literary great, Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes). The film is reportedly just a snapshot of Nelly’s life as detailed in the book, as a film can only cover so much. However, I felt that the focus was almost a bit too narrow, as the subject matter within the film was painstakingly stretched across almost two hours where not a great deal actually happens. They don’t even have the affair until about two thirds of the way through the film (though they spend their goddamn time talking about the lead up to it).
When Nelly and Charles do finally sleep together it is devoid of any passion whatsoever. They appear to be simply going through the motions. Fiennes has explained that the film is meant to portray the restrained aspect of a relationship, rather than the Hollywood style of ripping each other’s clothes off in a frenzy. It is true that these sorts of scenes are somewhat of a cliché and I can see what he was trying to do. But who doesn’t secretly love those depictions of that desperate lust with the mad grab for their forbidden love the minute the doors are closed? And the swelling music. I WANTED MORE SWELLING MUSIC. It was extremely difficult to believe that there was any chemistry between these two at all.
The acting was not the issue. Felicity Jones is always a pleasure to watch, and Ralph Fiennes is of course pretty excellent in just about all of his roles to date. Kristin Scott Thomas as Nelly’s mother, Frances, and Joanna Scanlan as Dickens’ wife, Catherine, were also well cast in supporting roles. I respected some of the directing choices (close ups, moments of silence) and the Oscar-nominated costumes were elaborate, but overall I found the film incredibly dull. Whether that’s the directing, the screenwriting (by Abi Morgan), or the real story is difficult to ascertain. Fans of this film seem to be describing it as “restrained”, but really I think that’s just a euphemism for “dull”, “boring”, “passionless”, and “I was dying for it to end”. If you want to see a good old-fashioned affair, see A Royal Affair (Nikolaj Arcel, 2012) instead. There is more clothes ripping and a sumptuous score to accompany it. If a film is going to focus entirely on an affair, it better have some passion. Unfortunately, this is where The Invisible Woman massively falters. Don’t bother with this restrained crap.