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Invisible Woman, The (AF)


Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander, Joanna Scanlan, Perdita Weeks, Amanda Hale, Tom Burke, John Kavanagh, Michael Marcus, Michelle Fairley, Charlotte Hope

Director: Ralph Fiennes

At the start of the classic novel The Catcher in the Rye young narrator Holden Caulfield referred to "all that David Copperfield kind of crap”, thereby winning my (no doubt disgraceful) lifetime admiration for him and author J D Salinger.

Which may serve to explain what follows.

If you have great expectations about this embalmed slice of literary history, prepare to abandon them now. For me, this stultified cinematic saga of Charles Dickens’ secret 13-year-long affair with 18-year old ‘actress’ Nelly Ternan was easily as effective an anaesthetic as the one I received when I had a kneecap replaced except that I was forced (sometimes by my wife, but I have forgiven her) to stay awake to endure a seemingly endless display of luvvies on heat that would be a perfect television on, say, America’s Masterpiece Theater, but for me was even more boring than the Dickens ‘masterpieces’ I was forced to endure at school.

Here, however, Dickens clearly admired himself as much as most movie stars, happily saying after a reading his work to a worshipping public gathering, “I’m told these readings double sales”.

That’s show business, I guess.

Sadly, just about all this “Film by Ralph Fiennes” (something of an exaggeration I feel since while Fiennes doubles as Dickens and Director, several hundred names feature on the end credits and I assumed (silly me) they might have contributed something to the final result).

For instance, the costumes created by costume designer Michael O'Connor look terrific and have been Oscar-nominated. Rob Hardy’s widescreen cinematography impresses, too, especially the many interior compositions lit and staged to resemble art gallery interiors from previous centuries.

Unfortunately, I found this technical expertise wasted on a notably dull screenplay by Abi Morgan whose fantasies on the later life of Margaret Thatcher helped Meryl Streep to win her (for me) undeserved Oscar for The Iron Lady. Her screenplay here is simply dull, and slower than a snail crippled with acute arthritis.

Many of her characters are simply largely larger than life – notably Fiennes Dickens who deploys the full luvvie and clearly enjoyed himself in the process, while Tom Hollander's patently fake theatrical beard was a great deal more convincing than his one-dimensional portrait of noted Victorian writer Wilkie Collins of The Woman in White and The Moonstone fame and Dickens’ friend and sometime theatrical collaborator.

Felicity Jones’s role is so subordinated that for the first part of the film she barely needs to act at all which, I assume, was what Fiennes wanted.

When she later gets the chance to display her dramatic talents, she seizes the opportunity and does an impressive (in the circumstances) job but cannot erase the seemingly endless close-ups of her simply looking blank that characterize the largest part of her role.

Kristin Scott Thomas is quickly forgettable as the mother of Dickens’ mistress (perhaps she should stick to French in future) and other cast members should be happy they made little or no impression on me, apart from the clichéd moustache sported by a French policeman at the train wreck that wrecked the affair of the author and the actress.

Sadly, while competently enough staged, the crash comes far too late to save a show whose true home is on a Sunday night on BBC television where it could be slept through or recorded to act later as a perennial sleeping draught.

If only the film, like its title, could have been invisible too.

Incidentally, the BBC allusion is not simply just sneering for sneer’s sake.

The Invisible Woman is a BBC co-production (with the British Film Institute), which means you have already paid for it with your TV licence fee. And, as a matter of fact, you also contributed your Lottery money, courtesy of the British Film Institute. And so, however often you suffer through The Invisible Woman, unfortunately your chances of getting your money back are...nil.

Alan Frank

USA 2012. UK Distributor: Lionsgate. Technicolor.
111 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 01 Feb 2014