invisible-woman-001Having taken to the director’s chair with such ease and confidence with his debut feature Coriolanus, Ralph Fiennes has ambitiously moved from Shakespeare to Dickens, with his second feature The Invisible Woman. With an evident aptitude for powerful, intellectual and character driven dramas, his sophomore feature is a more refined piece of cinema, despite sliding into similar bouts of tedium on occasion.

Fiennes plays Dickens, who we meet during the height of his illustrious career, married to his wife Catherine (Joanna Scanlan) and enjoy life as Britain’s most renowned novelist. However when he meets the beguiling young actress Nelly (Felicity Jones), despite being close to 30 years apart in age, they fall hopelessly in love with one another, entering in to an illicit, secretive affair that could damage his reputation indeterminately if uncovered, while the youngsters’ mother Frances (Kristin Scott Thomas) keeps a concerned eye on proceedings.

Illuminated by a stunning Abi Morgan screenplay – who shows off her distinct, electric range with a film that couldn’t be further away from the likes of Shame – this is a script worthy of depicting such an esteemed wordsmith. She successfully normalises Dickens, as we see him how Nelly does – as a person, not just a writer. He isn’t needlessly glorified nor revered, as his flaws and imperfections are there for all to see, while it helps that his counterpart Nelly is equally as strong and intriguing a character. Meanwhile the piece is exceedingly well structured, with a very definitive beginning, middle and end, despite interweaving between flashbacks from the romance, to Nelly in the future, where she plays a melancholic schoolteacher.

Talking of which, for an actress who still gets away with playing students herself, it’s a great compliment to Jones for being able to portray a teacher so sincerely, and with the maturity required for the role to be believable. Her youthful presence is beneficial though, allowing her to perform in the flashbacks with very few changes to her physical appearance. Fiennes, as expected, also impresses greatly – possessing the charisma needed to bring such an important historical figure to life on the big screen. He is gentle in his approach too, seeming less inclined to demand centre stage – which was a criticism of Coriolanus. Instead he takes more of a backseat and allows Jones to steal the limelight and, deservedly, take the majority of the plaudits.

The romance between them is easy to invest in, enduring a pensive build up, as it seems far more calculated than it does impulsive, subtle in its conviction. Conversely, growing attached to our protagonists is not quite so easy a task, given it’s based around a relationship that is illegitimate and somewhat bitter, as although they may be bound by love, it seems to have occurred with a degree of reluctance, as they struggle to deal with the repressive secrecy involved. It’s a quite brutal exploration of love; a notion that Dickens himself was known to portray in his work. His writing is occasionally alluded to in the narrative, while Dickens even uses his own distinguished prose to impress women. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?