This film directed and acted by Ralph Fiennes is an exquisite period piece that channels Victorian England by dramatizing Charles Dickens as a successful forty-year-old luminary embarking on an affair with an eighteen-year-old, inexperienced girl. The screenplay is based on Claire Tomalin’s 1991 dramatic biography “The Invisible Woman:The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens”.
This film shares the same question one may ask after reading “Fifty Shades of Grey”: Can impressionable young woman be protected from the narcissitic manipulations of high-ranking men? And in the case of Nelly,can a mother contract her daughter out for the promise of economic stability? No matter how archetypal the theme,this arranged mistress storyline smarts;and Dickens’reputation is lowered a notch or two. Those who see this as a true love story may disagree. The film balances both takes,and it is my moralizing that judges Dickens and his ilk harshly. The privileged male syndrome has had its comeuppance, I hope.Preying on those coming of age in order to achieve one’s sexual desires is verboten by most. A romantic muse need not lead to carnal displays . As I reread this,I fear that I am the “Victorian”! Yet,I was very satisfied with the film,even after three weeks of seeing trailers that misled the public.
Attention to detail sets this film apart. A 2014 Oscar win for Costume Design was almost assured with the film’s twelve million dollar budget. One frame is especially stunning. Felicity Jones, as Nelly, is encased in lavender and white gauze against grey and lavender clouds. The ensuing effect takes one’s breathe away. Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind” came to mind, as did Lara in “Dr. Zhivago”.
The three female actresses Felicity Jones as Nelly,Kristin Scott Thomas as Nelly’s mother and Joanna Scanlan, as Catherine Dickens, Charles’ wife are a trilogy of talent. With the use of a narrator and flashbacks, the not so secret love affair unfolds. Scanlan drew tears from my eyes as she suffered with her husband’s infidelity and brutal abandonment. She commanded the screen and used silence and a query as no other has. An Oscar loss,she did not deserve.
Fiennes stepped into the part of Dickens when as director he lost his leading man. He played Dickens as vain,love-sotted and scheming. Both tender and cruel. Full of life affirming possibility and vigor. At the time Dickens was writing “Great Expectations” he ironically had a few of his own.
In this film, one noticed the silence in lieu of background music. When the violins did start, it was heart-rending. A “Dr. Zhivago” for the Anglophile ! Did I leave anything out?