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With Jim Sabatini

The Invisible Woman

The Invisible Woman
Ralph Fiennes, Joanna Scanlon, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Felicity Jones

Rated: R for some sexual content.
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: December 25, 2013 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics

Ralph Fiennes is back in the directorial chair again and stars in The Invisible Woman, an attractively mounted Victorian England piece benefited at times by Rob Hardy's naturalistic lighting and a moody score.

Its visual pulchritude and the attention to period detail isn't matched by pacing or an energy to how a busy writer is consumed by his passion; it's a lovely meandering that may be a vivid tale of repression that perhaps doesn't rise above costume drama conventions.

Around 1860 Fiennes' Charles Dickens is married with ten children to frumpy wife Catherine (Joanna Scanlon), but is drawn to a family of actresses led by matriarch Frances (a chaperoning of sorts by the estimable Kristin Scott-Thomas). The renowned, orphan-helper can raise the temperature of a party more than a couple of degrees has fallen for the youngest of the family, attractive 18-year-old Nelly (Felicity Jones of Like Crazy) through whom Fiennes' flashback structure relates something not too eventful.

Nelly has been drawn to his craftsmanship but realizes what everyone else knows and Fiennes does his best to instill a hardy charisma and verve into the role (so different from his Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter canon). Inequality between the sexes and societal restrictions come into play here, but the themes around beautifully dressed characters never really resonate. Part of the issue may be how Fiennes works with scenarist Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady) to favor ambling and staring in and around some very striking landscapes.

It may be the point that the clandestine nature of Nelly and Dickens is hard to grasp and a candlelit dinner may be more gratifying than their more intimate encounters. You never really feel the purpose of how it was meant to be (maybe some more background, establishing scenes could have offered the kind of care and movement that seemed to have been favored more on the technical end.

Yet, even if Jones and Fiennes are hardly a fine fit on screen, the former (thanks to the helmer) gives a sweet, understated performance that appears to match the desired tone and measured quality. As Fiennes endows a romantic Dickens, Tom Hollander is his nicely mischievous equally hirsute colleague Wilkie Collins. In a tasteful, if ultimately unsuccessful rendering that will still appease Merchant/Ivory fans, Scanlon more than rises above the darker Victorian shadows in a memorably wrenching turn.

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The Invisible Woman        B-                  B   B 

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