When “The Invisible Woman” begins Charles Dickens (Fiennes) is the Justin Bieber of his day. He’s fabulously famous and wealthy thanks to his best selling books and stage appearances.
Married with children, his life becomes a tale of two women when a seventeen-year-old actress named Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones) is cast in one of his plays. Infatuated with the young woman the “David Copperfield” author begins a long-running, but secret affair with her that lasted until his death.
Younger viewers might wonder why Lord Voldemort is traipsing around London in a top hat and spats but the range of his performance will strike older viewers, familiar with Fiennes’s brooding work. His physical resemblance to the writer is remarkable, but it is the arc of the character, from charismatic celebrity to love sick puppy to Victorian rascal that really impresses.
Ditto the work of Joanna Scanlan as the long-suffering Catherine Dickens. She’s the mother of Dickens’s children, and a good and loyal person who becomes one of the invisible women in the author’s life as he falls deeper in love with Nelly. She hands in a wonderfully sympathetic performance rich with pathos and sadness.
Too bad these two stand-out performances are wrapped around a terribly dull film. With none of the crackle of Fiennes’s last directorial work “Coriolanus,” it’s a wealth of period details and sure handed direction but it plays like a tedious episode of “Masterpiece Theatre” broadcast by the BBC, which in this case would stand for Boring British Channel.
The story of a life-changing love affair is presented almost completely without passion and bookended by a sidebar of Nellie as an adult, still pining for her lost lover. Or, as it is presented in the film, staring off into the distance. As a viewer you hope the Ghost of Dickens Past will appear to snap out of her endless funk.
Ultimately “The Invisible Woman” could have used a little more TMZ and a little less BBC.