Review by-Jarrett Leahy
At the height of his illustrious literary career, author Charles Dickens was one of the most famed and beloved celebrities in the modern world. While preparing to perform in the play, The Frozen Deep, written by his close friend Wilkie Collins, Dickens is introduced to Nelly Ternan, a would-be actress whose virtuous beauty helps make up for her inadequate acting skills. Dickens, quite taken by Nelly, pursues her companionship despite being married to Catherine Dickens, the mother of his ten children. After some persuasion from her mother, Nelly accepts his advances, becoming Dickens’ secret mistress up until his passing in 1870.
Actors directing films can certainly be a hit-or-miss endeavor. For every George Clooney (Good Night & Good Luck) there is unfortunately an Eddie Murphy (Harlem Nights) or a William Shatner (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier). The Invisible Woman is the second directorial effort from British star Ralph Fiennes, the first being the 2011 Coriolanus, a modern adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy. Being an admirer of Fiennes’ many talents as an actor, it pains me to be so critical of his efforts as a filmmaker, but there is no way of getting around that The Invisible Woman felt like a drama by numbers. Fiennes spends so much time using every period piece cliché trying to prove to us that he knows how to make a proper drama that he forgets to actually make one.
Issues arose almost from the start. During the rehearsal scenes for The Frozen Deep, the use of a hand held camera to capture interactions on stage left me dizzy. Severe light contrasts meant to give the film an aged look instead just cause it to look dark and dingy. Odd jump cuts in the story’s timeline become a distraction, hindering the narrative flow. Fiennes’ overuse and choice of framing for close-ups were also frustrating. Too many times we see Nelly, Felicity Jones’ character, shot on a slanted downward angle, as if the camera were drunkenly looming over her. Other close-ups meant to convey some sort of passionate angst instead came across as some sort of bad 19th century perfume ad. I was seriously waiting for one of the actors to turn to the camera and whisper, “Calvin Klein.”
One of the film’s saving graces is Ralph Fiennes capable performance as Charles Dickens, but unfortunately its impact is hindered by Felicity Jones. Felicity Jones, oh where to begin? Having a spot-on British accent and flawless diction can only take you so far. The sign of a truly gifted actor is the ability to convey a wide range of emotions through just facial expressions. I found myself gazing directly at her, hoping to catch even the slightest nuance of any kind of facial response, only to left staring at an articulate mannequin.
It’s not an enjoyable thing to write a negative film review, but unfortunately as we all know, not every film succeeds. Hampered by questionable camera shots, lighting choices, along with a dreadfully emotionless performance from Felicity Jones, The Invisible Woman is a disappointing sophomore directorial effort from Ralph Fiennes. How such a lascivious and passionate premise for a film could come off so austere and frigid is beyond me. There is a sultry, scandalous love story in their somewhere. Fiennes just wasn’t able to deliver it.-JL