Overall the film is really well-made, so for a while I could not understand why I did not like it. I eventually realised it was because it failed to provoke any emotional reaction from me. I did not believe that these characters were in love at any point throughout the film.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Based on the novel by Claire Tomlain, The Invisible Woman explores the relationship between 19th century novelist Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) and his secret lover Ellen “Nelly” Ternan (Felicity Jones). Told from the perspective of Nelly, The Invisible Woman provides insight into 1850s society and the man Charles Dickens became at the height of his fame. The film is also directed by Ralph Fiennes, who made his directorial debut in 2011 with Coriolanus.
Ralph Fiennes has proven time and time again that he is an outstanding performer, but with The Invisible Woman he has demonstrated that he has serious skills behind the camera as well. I am yet to see Coriolanus, so I cannot comment on his direction in this film, but in The Invisible Woman I was very impressed by his attention to detail as well as the way he chose to shoot certain scenes. For example; there are some very striking extreme wide shots used to show Nelly walking briskly down a deserted beach whilst wearing a restrictive, black, 1800s style dress. There is also a very brief horse racing scene, which is shot in one, long tracking shot that begins on Nelly and gradually pulls back just in time to see the horses cross the finish line. It’s these little touches throughout the film that really set it apart from other period pieces.
It’s also a very authentic film in the way it expresses this period in time. Directors often tend to glamourise films set in past centuries and try to add in modern elements in order to make them more accessible to today’s viewers. If done correctly, this technique can be highly effective. The late 00’s television drama The Tudors is a great example of this. The Invisible Woman, on the other hand, does the exact opposite. It is completely stripped back. It is a raw and honest film and does not contain so much as a whiff of Hollywood glamour, which for me is both a positive and a negative.
Whilst I appreciate and respect the authenticity of this film, I also found it to be a little alienating. I personally do not like the fashions of the 1800s and found myself cringing every time I saw a woman wearing a bonnet or a man sporting whiskery sideburns. The film, like the era, moves at quite a slow pace, which normally I do not mind, but in this instance I found myself getting restless. I also found it very difficult to connect with any of the characters. The way they behave and relate to one another is so far-removed from modern day society. The whole film revolves around the affair between Dickens and Ternan, but there is nothing at all credible about the way in which their relationship develops. I did not believe that they were in love at any point throughout the film. Perhaps the exchange of a lustful look was outrageous enough to be considered an act of infidelity back in the 1850s, but even then, the looks exchanged between Fiennes and Jones were completely devoid of passion.
Although I did not feel the chemistry between them, both Fiennes and Jones deliver excellent performances individually. Ralph Fiennes has an incredible gift of being able to embody a character to such an extent that you forget that you are watching him play a role on a screen. Instead you feel as though you are watching a real person. Felicity Jones delivers a beautifully nuanced performance. She has the ability to tell you exactly what she is thinking and feeling through the most subtle facial expressions.
The production design in this film is absolutely mind-blowing. Again, it’s the attention to detail; you can see how much thought has been put into decorating each location, especially the interiors. You really feel as though you are back in the 1800s.
The score by Ilan Eskheri is also commendable. It really heightens Felicity Jones’ performance when her character is on the brink of an emotional breakdown. I’m surprised Eskheri did not receive an Oscar nomination for his work on this film.
Overall the film is really well-made, so for a while I could not understand why I did not like it. At first I thought maybe it was just due to personal preference; some people like blue and some people like red, and that’s fine. I eventually realised that the reason I did not like the film was because it failed to provoke any emotional reaction from me. The film presents itself as this tragic love story, but I didn’t feel any sorrow, nor was I moved at any point. So despite its technical brilliance, I have to give The Invisible Woman 3.5 stars.
Images courtesy of Sony Pictures