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Susan Granger's review of 'The Invisible Woman'

Published 6:06 pm, Friday, January 31, 2014
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Ralph Fiennes stars in and directs this romantic drama about the scandalous affair between celebrated English novelist Charles Dickens and a young actress, Ellen "Nelly" Ternan.

Back in 1857, 45-year-old Dickens (Fiennes) thoroughly enjoyed his fortune and fame, relishing every appearance before an adoring audience. But his longtime marriage to stoic Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), who has borne him 10 children, has gone sour. Born into a theatrical family, 18-year-old Nelly (Felicity Jones) lacks acting talent, much to the chagrin of her protective mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), who views an illicit liaison with this married man as her daughter's greatest opportunity. But prim Nelly's understandably fearful, particularly when energetic, enthusiastic Dickens takes her to visit his friend, Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander), who happily cohabits with a woman to whom he's not married.

Adapted by Abi Morgan ("The Iron Lady," "Shame") from Claire Tomalin's 1990 biography, it's cleverly book-ended by sequences in Margate, a seaside resort town, where troubled, 45-year-old Nelly Ternan Wharton, now-married to the headmaster of the local school (Tom Burke), paces the beach, as if pursued by demons. Elegantly directed with meticulous, Victorian restraint by Fiennes ("Coriolanus"), it depicts a fateful time when women were suffocated by restrictive manners and morals, which are adroitly reflected by cinematographer Rob Hardy's russet tones.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Invisible Woman" is a dark, secretive 7, emerging from the shadows of history.