Portrait of the Author: Charles Dickens

The Invisible WomanThe Invisible Woman (2013)

For any Hollywood film or independent film about a writer, the romantic connection is what’s used most to humanize the literary figure. It disserves the writer because the public viewer’s strongest impression of the writer in the 21st century is focused through their sexuality rather than the ambition and diligence of their craft. The films would likely make less money if the romantic relationships were not the prime subject of the film.

Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) is believable in the period piece directed by, again, Ralph Fiennes. Nelly (Felicity Jones) is established as a wife and then sexual being before she is established as an actor or daughter. Humanizing is one thing in film, and sensualizing is another. Given the fact that Nelly was an actress before she was a wife, it is the director’s intention to sexualize before humanize; and the two are different. There is nothing wrong with this, per se, but it is a common theme in films where the woman is a counterpart to a historical male figure and it’s an unoriginal approach. There are a number of other ways that Fiennes could have established her character so that her sexuality was a component of her personality rather than the primary distinguishing characteristic.

We see Dickens writing, doing a public reading, and attending the plays of his secret young blonde lover, Nelly. Some of the camera work looks like a 19th century realist painting. The horse track scene successfully immerses the viewer into the track scenario, which is masterful. The first quarter of the film builds a slow tension, which places Dickens and Nelly in close proximity to each other, but keeps its petticoat out of sight until shortly after Dickens declines a “blow” by a prostitute whom he gives five schillings to get off the streets for the night.

Fiennes, using common history of the period, integrates Dickens’ charitable nature toward poverty into the film that elucidates the affair that was illegal at the time, and punishable by law. At 111 minutes The Invisible Woman gave the viewer enough time to watch a swath of arguably the most famous British writer of the 19th century’s later years. I enjoyed aspects of the film and recommend watching it with a significant other; it’s a couple’s film.