Film | The Invisible Woman – Dickens' secret love affair comes to light

Image: BBC Films

4/5 Stars

Adapted from Claire Tomalin’s book of the same name, The Invisible Woman is an engrossing depiction of the life of Nelly Ternan, a shadowy figure who was Dickens’ secret love and who became an integral part of his life, despite being kept a profound secret by the famous author. The captivating story of this passionate but forbidden relationship makes for an undeniably engaging drama whilst revealing an unknown side to Dickens‘ story, as well as the backdrop to some of his literary masterpieces.

Miss Havisham’s love speech in Great Expectations is believed by some to reveal the intensity of Dickins’ feelings towards the young aspiring actress: ’real love…is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission’. Ralph Fiennes gives an impeccable performance as the legendary writer consumed by such an infatuation, portraying perfectly the turmoil of Dickens’ egotism, selfishness and desire. His talent as a director also deserves critical recognition. This film is his second directorial effort, and Fiennes has impressively pushed the boundaries of contemporary cinematic drama whilst perfectly conveying the restrained emotions of his characters.

However, the film really belongs to the women in Dickens’ life. Felicity Jones and Joanna Scanlan play the mistress and wife of the vain celebrity-writer respectively, both falling victim to Dickens’s personal battle between his lust for life and lust for fame. Jones offers a luminous portrayal of a young woman’s innocence, professional uncertainty and awe as Ternan is gradually drawn towards this powerful and influential artist despite the morals of conventional society. Scanlan, the other ‘invisible woman’ of the tale, gives a persuasive and sensitive performance as the neglected wife and mother of Dickens’s nine children.

Whilst The Invisible Woman may be a highly fictionalized version of the book, there is something very honest and un-romanticised about its portrayal of Dickens and his love affairs. The directing is impressive, the performances are impeccable and the Victorian set convincing.

Aisha Fairrie

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