What the Dickens? An Invisible Woman?

Capitol Manuka, Palace Electric

Two films about wronged women hit the screens this week. The Other Woman takes a light look at the all-round bastardry of men, while The Invisible Woman focuses on one bastard in particular.

This particular bastard is Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes), a superb characterisation by the actor, who makes Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel so charming an experience.

Wonderful, timeless writer though he may be, Dickens was not the best husband or parent, and the invisible woman of the title is Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), the woman who was his long-time mistress.

As the film opens, Ternan is a married woman, whose husband, George Wharton Robinson (Tom Burke), delights in telling folk his wife used to know the great Charles Dickens as a girl, much to her mortification.

As she reflects back on the relationship her husband does not understand the breadth of, we see the young woman meet the great author, very much her senior, and their friendship blossom into something deeper under the worrying watchful eye of her mother (Kristin Scott Thomas). Also watching is Dickens' long-suffering wife, Catherine (Joanna Scanlan).


Perhaps I'm being a little too harsh with my rating and judging the people and not the film, but I found Fiennes' Dickens so sly and Jones' Nelly so cold that I had trouble engaging with the film. The actors' work is flawless, so perhaps Abi Morgan's screenplay, from Claire Tomalin's book, Charles Dickens: A Life, is too enigmatic.

As a director, Fiennes is good, supported by a very able crew. He does not shy away from unpleasantness in his characters or the historical reality of life at the time, but, at the same time, he pours fathoms and fathoms of detail into his costuming (by Michael O'Connor) or his darkly shot interior scenes (lensed by Rob Hardy).

The film's production is so richly detailed that you almost feel as if Merchant Ivory is back in the game, but Maria Djurkovic deserves the credit. Her previous work includes The Hours and The Singing Detective, and she makes a modest budget look like an oligarch's spending spree.

There are quality support performances by Scott Thomas and Tom Hollander and a heartbreaking and restrained performance by Scanlan as the wronged wife. Perhaps she was the real invisible woman.