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The Invisible Woman [DVD] 
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Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in this romantic drama adapted from Clare Tomalin's book about the relationship between celebrated 19th-century novelist Charles Dickens and his mistress. School teacher Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), now a wife and mother, looks back on her life as a young woman when, while working as an actress, she met the 45-year-old Dickens (Fiennes). Having become disenchanted with his wife Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), Dickens finds himself enamoured by the equally smitten Nelly and the two become romantically involved. However, they must keep their relationship a secret, meaning Nelly must live an almost invisible existence. The cast also includes Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander and Michelle Fairley.
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Loneliness is what Dickens feels, surrounded paradoxically as he is by admirers, well-wishers, friends and a large family.
Love is what he needs and does not have with a wife who cannot understand his complexities. Love is also what he feels for young Ellen Ternan (whom he affectionately calls Nelly), the 18-year-old daughter of an actress he knows and befriends. Love for Nelly is what she cannot feel for him, a much older man, and one who is married, however much she respects him as a writer and appreciates his generosity toward her family.
Secrecy is what must be maintained at all costs as the yearning of Dickens for her intensifies. She must be protected from scandal. Along with her charm, intelligence and beauty, her purity and integrity are what Dickens loves in her.
But all is quite problematic in the beginning because she will not yield to him. Her moral standards are higher than his, which he sees, and which in turn deepen his regard for her.
Dickens is caught in the trap of success, the prison of wealth and fame. A public man, the property of everyone, he is forced to scramble for private stolen moments. Work for him becomes compulsion and refuge, a place of isolation and silence where he can pause to breathe again.
What does Nelly represent to him? Radical change: freshness, freedom, hope, opportunity. While there is still time he wants a different kind of life, an honest one with love at its core. He is tired of the spectacle of respectability, the respectable face he must wear for everyone, even for his own family. This is his dilemma, his terrible irony. The man who in his books detests and derides falseness, pretense and hypocrisy must live the life of a hypocrite.
The tension, we see, is awful. On the surface he is jolly, jovial, gregarious, fun. A born storyteller, he loves to entertain those around him with tales, anecdotes, magic tricks, party games. But in the down moments, the private ones in the shadows away from the glare, we see the toll that fatigue and sadness have on him. His heart is breaking. He is dying without Nelly's love.
He plunges deeper into his feelings for her through the process of writing Great Expectations — the novel, decoded on one level, a long cry of love for her. In a quiet and tender moment alone with her he reads aloud from the handwritten pages of the novel. Hers are the first human ears to hear these words after his own, the famous words of Pip confessing his love to Estella:
“You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since — on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with...To the last hour of my life you...remain part of my character.”
Nelly listens in silence, tears streaming down her face. She knows the depth of his emotion for her is genuine. She understands he loves her. She wrestles thereafter with her own demons — the social demons of rightness and moral rectitude. We watch as she slowly gives in, tentatively, timidly, delicately, the emotion all the more profound for its delicacy.
We're left with the impression that theirs was a real love story. He is tender and doting on her, generous with everything. She in turn accepts him as he is, knowing that she can only ever have a part of him, that another equally large part must always be shared with a world that adores him too.
Nelly is wonderful. We care for her and her happiness. We see clearly why Dickens loves her and why he does everything he can to secure her love.
They remained together for the last 13 years of Dickens' existence. These were beautiful years for Dickens, the film implies, perhaps the happiest of his life. He was understood and genuinely accepted, faults and all, by a woman he sincerely loved. He must have felt that all the toil in life had been worth it. Books and fame were one thing. But what mattered most was love.
Nelly lives on. We see her in middle age. She has married a good man who is her junior by four or five years. They have a young son. They run a school for boys in Margate on the Kentish coast. We know her great secret but her husband and others do not. She was the lover of the great worldly man that everyone loved. The burden of this secret weighs heavily on her. She is moody, distant, sad. She takes long, lonely, vigorous walks along the wild shore to clear her mind and raise her spirits. She must remain strong for her husband, boy, and all the other boys in the school.
But one person, the local vicar, detects her suffering. He is Reverend Benham. He is kind and loving. He wants to help her. Time and again she refuses his help. But finally he calls her name aloud to her, the name of Ellen Ternan, a name she had buried long ago in an obscurity designed to protect herself and the reputation of Dickens. When she hears this, when she knows that he knows, she unburdens herself to him. This scene, moving and deeply touching, makes us love Nelly all the more for it.
Felicity Jones, the actress who plays Nelly, is extraordinary. Where does such beautiful complexity come from in one so young? If there is no answer to this, at least there is the evidence of it to witness on film. Felicity is magnificent. You will care for Nelly and her happiness just as much as Dickens did.
The Blu Ray version I have features high quality picture and sound, In terms of it's direction I'd say the film rather hints at their intimacy rather than showing anything graphic, which fits well as we later Nelly coldly rebutting early efforts for her to reveal what happened to her as though it cannot be shown or spoken of. Felicity Jones was superb for such a young actress and Ralph Fiennes also deserves high praise for his direction of the film and his portrayal of Dickens. The sound on the Blu Ray is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and the picture aspect ratio is Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 (widescreen).
I would never have thought of Fiennes as a shoo-in to play the Inimitable - as Dickens was known in his short though hectic lifetime - but, with the help of a beard and the costume department (who excel themselves throughout) as well as his own bursting intensity, he is suitably energetic and volatile, and manages to convince you, for much of the time, that you are indeed seeing the man, or as many aspects of him as humanly possible. I don`t believe there`s an actor alive who could embody the whole of Dickens: he was an unexplainable one-off!
The plainly pretty Felicity Jones is marvellous as his alleged lover Ellen "Nelly" Ternan, and Joanna Scanlon is perfect as his homely, forlorn, neglected but nonetheless tough-minded wife Catherine. Her pent-up tears, when they come, are heart-rending.
Perdita Weeks (radiant and perky) and Amanda Hale (warm and knowing) are excellent as Ellen`s amiable sisters, while Kristin Scott Thomas, in an uncharacteristically low-key role, is equally effective, and quietly touching, as their wisely compassionate actress mother.
With Tom Hollander well-cast as Wilkie Collins, the always incisive Michelle Fairley as the latter`s live-in lover (would we had seen more of her; her character is left teasingly underdeveloped by screenwriter Abi Morgan), and veteran Irish actor John Cavanagh working wonders as a friendly local priest in whom Ellen confides, this is a beautifully crafted, photographed and acted film, which manages the considerable feat of not having `period drama` written all over it.
One thing I loved was the sparing use of music - in fact very little is heard. Fiennes makes use of natural sounds as much as possible. He also has a nicely moody eye for interiors and lighting, using space evocatively. He is also obviously - as indeed he should be - a superb director of his fellow actors.
The famous train crash, which so shook Dickens, making him nervous of rail travel in his remaining years, plays slightly fast and loose with the known facts, but this is an imaginative reconstruction of events in the later life of Dickens, not a documentary.
The few `love scenes`, when they eventually occur, are ineffably gentle, hesitant and subtly erotic, the first kiss barely a kiss at all...
There`s an excrutiatingly telling scene on (I think) Hampstead Heath, where Charles and Nelly are out walking, when who should they run into but his son Charlie. Their attempts to cover their embarrassment are almost farcically embarrassing.
But there are many memorable moments and scenes, and it`s definitely a film to see more than once.
I wanted to give this five stars, but little is perfect in this life, so let`s say nine out of ten, and an extra star in spirit!
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