I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised at the New York Film Festival by Ralph Fiennes‘ The Invisible Woman, but alas…it was not to be. This sophomore outing from now multi-hypenate Fiennes is well made but maddeningly un-engaging. Fiennes himself gives a decent performance as Charles Dickens, while Felicity Jones is very solid (she’s quickly becoming a favorite of mine) as the author’s secret young love, but so little of interest goes on here that you find yourself checking out early on and not coming back during the near two hour running time. There’s some nice visuals to appreciate here, but that’s not nearly enough to stave off the boredom that inevitably comes around during this flick. The Invisible Woman is sadly a step down from the already flawed Coriolanus for Fiennes.
Basically, the film works as a flashback/fill in the blank in regard to the character of Nelly Ternan (Jones). She’s a teacher who seems to know quite a bit about Dickens, though no one seems to know why. Soon enough, we’ve flashed back to her teenaged years where she came into contact with Dickens (Fiennes) and caught his eye, despite him being married at the time to Catherine (Joanna Scanlan). They begin a secretive affair that only until very recently was more or less unknown to the world. Anyone planning on learning much new about Dickens will be disappointed, though being introduced to Nelly as a potential muse for his future work is an intriguing enough idea. If only the movie was able to do something with that little nugget…
The performances here are all decent enough, but no one blows you away. Ralph Fiennes makes for an acceptable Charles Dickens, while Felicity Jones adds another quality acting job that heavily consists of making you fall in love with her. Fiennes seems to have his attention split between multiple duties, which keeps him from fully investing in either of his roles. Jones’ acting isn’t to blame here, she’s just stuck playing a character more interesting for her place in history than for anything that she actually gets to do. Neither has enough to do, but they both fare better than the likes of Joanna Scanlan and especially Kristin Scott Thomas, who’s pretty much wasted here. Scanlan is solid, but underused. As for the rest of the cast, we have folks like Tom Burke, Michelle Fairley, Tom Hollander, and others on hand, but no one leaves an impression. Jones fares the best, but not in any sort of incredible way.
Visually, Fiennes has a nice eye, but it never amounts to too much. As a director here, he seems intent on almost everything being in a sepia tone, which does sort of work for the period, but only piles on to the boredom. In all fairness, the script by Abi Morgan just gave him almost nothing to work with. It plays like a summary, so that’s how the film comes off, which is a shame. There could have been something here, but Morgan didn’t give Fiennes enough and he didn’t rise above that in any way. I hope he keeps trying to direct, but I also do hope for all of our sakes that the third time is the charm for him.
In the end, The Invisible Woman is just tremendously forgettable. It never becomes outright bland, but it stays boring and chaste the whole way through. At nearly two hours, it’s far too long for the material on hand and never comes close to captivating you in any way. I wasn’t randomly expecting a masterpiece here, but even with lowered expectations I still came away highly disappointed. We can safely cross The Invisible Woman off of our Oscar predictions. It comes out on Christmas, but unless you’re a die hard Dickens fan, this is one you can skip.
Stay tuned in the next few days as we wrap up our coverage of the 51st New York Film Festival with looks at Blue is the Warmest Color, the World Premiere of Her, and a summary of what the fest meant for the 2013 Oscar race. Keep on reading.
-Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!