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Mini update post: First reviews for 'The Invisible Woman' are in, Girls, and more

Telluride Film Festival Review: Ralph Fiennes Directs Himself As Charles Dickens In 'The Invisible Woman,' But It's Felicity Jones Who Shines

Ralph Fiennes' quasi-modern adaptation of "Coriolanus," which marked the actor's directorial debut, was a sharply experimental take on the source material. For his second effort behind the camera, "The Invisible Woman," the director has taken a more classical approach. Adapting Claire Tomalin's book about Ellen Ternan, the actress most famous for her affair with Charles Dickens while nearly 30 years his junior, Fiennes takes on the Dickens role and coaxes a fantastic performance out of Felicity Jones as Ternan. Though suffering from dry patches and a fairly mannered approach, "The Invisible Woman" eventually makes its way to a powerful final third documenting an ultimately tragic romance in deeply felt terms. It's no Shakespeare, but Fiennes makes the story resonate all the same.

Even when it drags, however, "The Invisible Woman" retains an impressive feel for its period. Cinematographer Rob Hardy ("Shadowdancer") captures the elegance of the period with warm colors that make virtually every shot worthy of postcard treatment. The gorgeous visuals help to some degree in sustaining the first hour, when the movie takes its time to get going.

[Spoiler (click to open)]Opening in a remote area of England in 1833, "The Invisible Woman" finds Ternan rehearsing a Dickens play with young children and gazing on the performance with a wistful stare. From there, Fiennes flashing back to "some time ago," when the 18-year-old "Nelly" working her way into Dickens' theater troupe and instantly catching his eye. "She has something," Dickens asserts, though whether he's actually drawn to her performative abilities or merely her good looks remains ambiguous as their courtship begins.

Fiennes has said that he wasn't all that familiar with Dickens' work when he began developing the project, a backstory that makes sense in the rather basic character of the writer drawn in Abi Morgan's screenplay. Fiennes capably embodies Dickens as a man smothered by fame and obsession over his genius, but Jones far surpasses that performance with a much more nuanced portrait of Ternan's youthful obsession with Dickens. The marital discord that eventually leads Dickens to divorce his portly, beleaguered wife is only explored in side-glances, lending the feeling of being inserted into the drama in medias res. While Dickens' personal dealings lack sufficient fleshing out, his theater presence receives nearly too much screen time, consuming the first half of the movie with underwhelming details and perfunctory characters, including a one-note aid played by Kristin Scott Thomas.

But eventually these scenes matter a lot less than the tale of heartbreak that eventually emerges. Throwing his career into jeopardy, Dickens professes his love for Ternan and she hesitantly plays along. "What is it that we are?" she asks him in a fleeting moment of exasperating before melting into his embrace. He doesn't know the answer, but they give it a shot anyway, at which point "The Invisible Woman" snaps together as their relationship gets serious.

Staving off gossip, the new couple attempts to make their clandestine life together work, a feat exacerbated when Ternan gets pregnant. Their liaison culminates with an expertly staged recreation of the train crash the two experienced while traveling Europe, and the sequence effectively brings the struggles that the couple have left unstated into a harsh physical reality.

As a filmmaker, Fiennes maintains a subdued tone that's alternately too restrained to make the drama fluidly engaging and impressively studied in its depiction of the couple's ups and downs. The strength of the later scenes make it difficult to rescue the project as a whole, but Jones singlehandedly elevates the movie beyond its melodramatic roots. By the end of "The Invisible Woman," she's anything but.

Criticwire grade: B

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Sony Pictures Classics plans to release "The Invisible Woman" this fall as an awards contender. It should perform decently if not outstandingly well during the crowded year-end season, but expect a formidable supporting actress campaign for Jones.


The Invisible Woman: Telluride Review: Ralph Fiennes directs and stars opposite Felicity Jones in his drama centered on Charles Dickens' affair with a younger woman.

Period biographical dramas don’t come much better than The Invisible Woman, an exceptionally involving and credible portrayal of the “whispered” relationship Charles Dickens maintained with a much younger woman over the last 13 years of his life. A career high point for Ralph Fiennes as both an actor and director, this unfussy and emotionally penetrating work also provides lead actress Felicity Jones with the prime role in which she abundantly fulfills the promise suggested in some of her earlier small films. After high-profile festival exposure in Telluride, Toronto and New York, this looks like ideal fare for Sony Classics to push toward a warm audience embrace in specialized release beginning in December.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

Meeting Ellen “Nelly” Ternan in 1857 when she’s come with her theatrical mother Catherine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and sisters to perform in a Manchester production of his play The Frozen Deep,  the 45-year-old Dickens is immediately struck by the 18-year-old’s beauty and poise. “She has something,” observes the bushy-haired and goateed author, a dynamo portrayed by Fiennes as an almost constantly erupting geyser of creativity and a contagious enthusiast.Not at all a starchy and decorous tradition of quality affair, the film has a lived-in feel that is informed by Fiennes, in both his artistic capacities, with the gusto, energy and turbulence one associates with Dickens himself. Working with an intelligent and shrewdly structured script by Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady), Fiennes quickly establishes the vastness of the great author’s world—his artistic eminence, popularity as both a writer and public speaker, father of ten, tireless worker on behalf of society’s destitute—as well as his Victorian-era reticence to embark upon an extra-marital affair despite his now empty marriage to a wife who can’t begin to keep up with him physically or intellectually; as he tellingly remarks on one of his vigorous country hikes (a line repeated later in her life by his mistress), “I walk at quite a pace.”

Noting her husband’s interest, his wife Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), who has become extremely large in middle age but retains an almost angelic face, engages Nelly in talk of her husband’s work—the young woman likes Little Dorrit—and it seems that both the author’s moral temperament and his fame restrain him from easily acting on his impulses; he’s so well known that it would be hard to keep any secrets from the press and scandal in his position is to be avoided at all costs.

More interesting, however, and more difficult to dramatize is Nelly’s own reticence. Well raised and very close to her mother, she has career aspirations as well as a strong moral sense and a fixed idea of propriety. Only a tidal wave of a man such as Dickens could likely ever have broken down her reserve and, even when Dickens has left his wife, she has trouble understanding what her new role in life is supposed to be, given that the relationship must remain clandestine. In Morgan’s no doubt conjectural conception of the woman’s emotional growth, it takes Nelly many years, and a later marriage to a younger man, to come to terms with her longtime shadow existence.

In the early stages of their acquaintanceship, Dickens and Nelly are almost always surrounded by others in public places or with family members. A pivotal and brilliantly conceived scene is set late at night in Dickens’s study after a very successful charity event. It becomes the first quasi-intimate talk between the two, one in which the author subtly reveals his true feelings for the girl, but it’s all conducted with Nelly’s mother sleeping—or perhaps only resting and overhearing everything—on a nearby lounge. Morgan’s pointed but natural dialogue writing here is superb, as it is in another great interlude shortly thereafter in which Mrs. Dickens quietly lets Nelly know she’s aware of what’s going on, even if nothing really is yet.

When the relationship is finally consummated, director Fiennes exhibits a restraint entirely in keeping with the nature of the times and story, foregoing typical pawing, groping and heavy breathing in favor of a rather brief but highly effective indication of a sexual breakthrough. This sort of visual economy is also applied to two big set pieces—no doubt an example of making a virtue of financial constraints—first in a beautifully composed scene set at a big horse race, and even more impressively when the couple are among the many victims of a (true life) train accident on a trip from Paris back to England.

However Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan might have been judged at the time or may be even today by viewers, The Invisible Woman does an exemplary job of making the audience see and understand their relationship from the perspective of each of them. Although based on a 1990 book by Claire Tomalin, there must be considerable invention in the screenplay, since, as is illustrated in a shocking scene, Dickens burned virtually all his correspondence that made any mention of his lover. (The relationship was previously the subject of Simon Gray’s 2007 play Little Nell.)

The complexity of a great man’s career merges here with a young woman’s agitated struggle to redefine her role in life to create a richly satisfying dramatic repast.  Fiennes charges Dickens with an engaging vitality that sweeps up everyone in his vicinity but is checked by a prudent moral sense that makes his percolating personality something distinct from generalized lust for life.

Luminous and thoughtful, socially composed and yet often troubled and distracted by the moral and social reorientation her life’s surprising course has taken, Jones is simply superb in a complex role. The other standout is the hitherto unknown Scanlon as a clear-sighted but simple woman who, one can infer, was an endlessly supportive and understanding wife and a fine mother but is now entirely incapable of giving her husband what he needs or of competing with Nelly. Her breakdown is devastating.

After his uneven directorial debut with Coriolanus, Fiennes is on top of every aspect of this film, which benefits from agile and eye-catching cinematography by Robert Hardy and production design by Maria Djurkovic and costumes by Michael O’Connor that richly evoke the era. IlanEshkeri’s score is another plus.


Spoiler cuts for some plot points, just in case. I'm glad the reception has been warm so far! Can't wait to see it. Expected to be a limited release on Christmas Day, right around awards season.


Felicity Jones To Appear On Season 3 Of 'Girls'

Earlier last month, Felicity was spotted on set of HBO's Girls and was mentioned by director Jesse Peretz on twitter. Felicity's mentioned before about being a big fan of the show, so glad she could become a part of it!

Felicity and Jemima Kirke, filming an episode of the third season of Girls in NYC, August 06, 2013

Bonus picture of Felicity with Jemima from Lena Dunham's instagram:

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |


Last but not least, I recently watched Chris Evans' Q&A and he mentioned Felicity as one of the actors/actresses he loves to watch. How nice! Here's the video (he talks about Felicity around the 9:00 mark, he also mentions being inspired by Like Crazy some time later...)


also, silent happy dance that all those 50 Shades rumours can die now!~ YAY. thank god.
Tags: media: articles, media: tv appearances, media: twitter, news, people talking about felicity, pictures: filming
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