What kind of pranks might one achieve if you really were “The Invisible Woman?” Wedgies? Eavesdropping? There are so many possibilities.
While the true story of Charles Dickens’ long-term love affair with a young actress suggests many possibilities, the finished film — Ralph Fiennes’ “The Invisible Woman” — was a dreary disappointment. Were I invisible, he might be on the receiving end of a few pranks for taking two hours of my life.
Actually, it might be more interesting to do some eavesdropping on what exactly they were going for with this story. On the surface, it is merely boring, the kind of lumbering period piece that makes many people hate period pieces. Full of swishy skirts, endless and obscure dialogue, and lingering stares form the preponderance of this tale of forbidden love.
We are awoken from our torpor by a few jolting and truly upsetting moments. What in the name of God lead director and star Ralph Fiennes, as Charles Dickens, to make us watch him use his chamber pot all of a sudden? Why did his plump, dull wife and the mother of his 12 children suddenly have to flash us the full monty?
Then after these unwelcome jolts, the film continues on its dreary path. I truly don’t believe either scene served character or plot. We already got the message that Dickens would prefer to hit the sheets with a hot young actress, than his fat old wife of so many years. Not that I wanted to see more weird nudity, but I think that maybe — if the lovers were willing to go so far for their passion — it would have been at least as instructive to show us some of that. Who knows what disturbing images were safely consigned to the cutting room floor?
I will say that Ralph Fiennes was interesting and convincing as Dickens. The strength of the film lay there, as he explored his complex relationship with the public. We saw a man who was not a monster or a saint, and we saw how much his work meant to others, and what that meant for him. An amateur actor, he craved the spotlight even as it made matters more difficult for him, and his long-suffering wife saw the public as her true competition for his affection.
Meanwhile, the love story was just one long bummer, with the poor young lady in question, Nelly, asking a very good question: What am I getting out of this mess? As a viewer, I certainly never found out the answer, and I might well pose the same question myself. Depressing without being moving, and factual without being interesting, “The Invisible Woman,” was a worthy exercise for Fiennes as Dickens, but there wasn’t much left for the rest of us.
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