"Every human creature is a profound secret and mystery to every other."
In this follow up to his directorial debut, Coriolanus, Ralph Fiennes directs himself as Charles Dickens focusing on a specific period of his life rather than on a full blown biography. I am a huge fan of Dickens' work and have read many of his novels, but this film focuses on his later years after he had become a successful and respected writer. He was a very popular figure during the Victorian Age and we get glimpses of this here in The Invisible Woman as he struggles to hide his affection for a teenage stage actress he encounters named Nelly Ternan (played by Felicity Jones). Dickens is married, but he finds no fulfillment in his wife who doesn't understand his work. But since he's such a public figure, he must keep his affair a secret which is something Nelly finds hard to accept. This period piece stands out visually thanks to the beautiful costume design and setting which transports us to the Victorian Age. The Oscar nomination for achievement in costume design was well deserved although it lost out to The Great Gatsby. The performances from Felicity Jones and Ralph Fiennes were superb and the chemistry between them was strong, but the major issue with this film has to do with its slow pacing. The film is a little less than two hours long, but it feels like much more. However it's hard to resist this film due to the charm that Fiennes' Dickens evokes on the viewer. We have read his novels where he bears his soul about his troubled and difficult past (David Copperfield is my favorite work of his and it is his most autobiographical one), but I really never pictured him as this successful writer who enjoyed the spotlight and had such charisma. Its that very essence of Dickens that got me through the movie.
The Invisible Woman was adapted by Abi Morgan from Claire Tomalin's book and it focuses on Dickens' affair from Nelly's point of view as she dealt with the pain of their secret relationship despite having a privileged life. Everything about this period piece looks beautiful, but still it feels like its missing something and I quite can't figure it out yet. I can't fully grasp the mystery as to why Nelly accepted to live this life while internally she despised herself for it. The film doesn't bear her soul, but only shows signs of this externally through her strong performance. She is troubled and despite her admiration for Dickens' work we don't see that same passion in her eyes that he shares for her. The supporting performances from Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander, and Joanna Scanlan do lift the movie. Scanlan plays an important role as Dickens' wife as she comes to grasp the reality of her husband's affair. It's the poor way she's treated by Dickens that turns her off. However, Dickens is so charming that it's hard not to like him. Scott Thomas plays Nelly's mother and she is the one that convinces her to accept the life Dickens offers her. The film explores this complex relationship and it succeeds in most part thanks to the strong performances but it still fails to engage us more in their world. Just like Nelly's repressed emotions, the film at times feels repressed and doesn't quite manage to open up for the audience.