Movie Review: The Invisible Woman

The Invisible WomanTitle: “The Invisible Woman”

Director: Ralph Fiennes

Writer: Abi Morgan

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Based on Claire Tomalin’s book of the same name, “The Invisible Woman” follows the story of Nelly Ternan, the woman who became Charles Dickens’ secret mistress. Told in a series of flashbacks, we see Nelly as she meets Dickens during the height of his career and follow their relationship (and his relationship with his wife) up until his death.

Many will probably find this movie rather dull and not without cause. Much of the drama in this movie, with the exception of a couple of scenes, feels a bit forced, as if the filmmakers needed standing there telling the audience that they’re now supposed to feel tension, now they’re supposed to feel sad, and so on. But ultimately, it doesn’t feel terribly natural.

The performances are quite good. Ralph Fiennes portrays Charles Dickens as a light-hearted and flamboyant writer and actor, as well as a man who saw little use for Victorian convention. Felicity Jones plays Nelly beautifully, with a youthful wonder and enchantment of an already established and famous Dickens. She also portrays Nelly as being very caught up in Victorian morals and a desire to remain within the bounds of what is socially acceptable.

This is where most of the drama comes from. It’s not necessarily a conflict between characters, where, as I said before, the drama feels forced. Most of the conflict comes when the principals find themselves in conflict with Victorian social norms, particularly regarding marriage and sex. It’s drama that acts as an undercurrent, and never fully manages to break the film’s surface, but it’s there if you pay careful attention.

The costuming (for which this film is nominated for an Academy Award) and the set design are quite good. Well, the set design is when you can see it. Many scenes in the movie are very dark. I don’t mean that in terms of tone. I’m actually referring to the lighting. Ambient lighting can sometimes be a problem with this movie. While theses scenes do take place at night, there’s still something to be said for visual quality over authenticity at times, especially when a movie is slow with understated drama. You risk putting your audience to sleep.

Ultimately, “The Invisible Woman” is passable. It’s not really bad, but it’s not really that good, either. It’s one of those movies that’s just kind of there. While it has wonderful performances and great costuming, it suffers from understated and at times forced drama and low lighting that make the film feel slow and frustrating, and it can be so slow at times that it can feel like a chore to get through. I enjoy the works of Charles Dickens, but this biopic is only okay.

“The Invisible Woman” earns 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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