The Invisible Woman: Come for the acting chops and directorial flourishes of Ralph Fiennes, stay for the surprising, who-the-hell-is-that performance by Felicity Jones.
Bringing to the screen the unlikely and seldom-seen secret life of Charles Dickens, The Invisible Woman is one of those warmly photographed, well-stitched period dramas the British do so well, and this one is chock full of great costumes, hushed tones, and Victorian repression.
Nelly Ternan (Jones) was an 18-year-old actress when she met Dickens (Fiennes), by then a legend more than twice her age. You can guess what happens next, and boy does it: Dickens, unloved at home after a couple decades of marriage, falls head over heels for Nelly, who does not exactly return the affection.
But there are other considerations, namely that her mother and sisters could sure use the kind of stability a Dickensian income could provide.
Fiennes has directed himself before, in the modernized Shakespearean adaptation Coriolanus, and there’s an extremely short list of performers who can act and direct Shakespeare convincingly. This film sets, somewhat obviously, an entirely different tone, and Fiennes again demonstrates a lot of facility as a filmmaker. He’s not showy and he’s not overthinking it, but he’s made a couple good movies to start his career behind the camera.
But it is Felicity Jones, all doe-eyes and overbite, who cinches it for The Invisible Woman. She is not really an unknown quantity, but almost. If you saw the relationship drama Like Crazy a couple years ago, you’d remember her work. You will here, too.
The Other Woman is such a clichéd dramatic part that you almost forget what it can be in the right hands. However, Jones carries Nelly over the course of a couple decades, from both ends of her Dickens years, and it’s more of a performance than you think you’re going to get.
THE INVISIBLE WOMAN, Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas. Directed by Ralph Fiennes. R, 111 mins. Opens Feb. 7.