Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Invisible Woman (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Invisible Woman

Ralph Fiennes, the man that can do classics as well as pop blockbusters, offers a fine performance and has a graceful hand on the camera in his direction of "The Invisible Woman". The new biopic written by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady)  is about the romantic tangles of Charles Dickens.

High school teachers take caution here: this is Dickens unchained.

At the start, a sable stitched school teacher, Nelly (Felicity Jones) marches under a slate gray sky along a desolate beach. She seems possessed by a heavy and crushing guilt.

She is shouldered with the task of presenting a school play, The Frozen Deep, that she herself appeared in many years ago.

While giving numerous directions, the older Nelly is transported backward to when she was a young girl meeting the prolific, vain and self absorbed Dickens.

The famed author is indeed the life of the party. He is surrounded by female coteries of all ages. He drinks  and slurps the bubbly, trading barbs while his round and plain wife Catherine (Joanna Scanlan) looks glum and morose ---a pin cushion over-pierced and cast aside.

Old Dickens is always on the move, rambling about to this opening and that reception and the nubile Nelly Ternan always turns up, peering around the corridor.

Nothing untoward happens straightaway,  and at first this might seem a forgivable, platonic Wonderland ala Charles Dodgson with a young  Alice, (merely a few shy looks are exchanged ) until a charitable benefit puts them into orbit. Close proximity, shared stories and some warm breath on the neck is all it takes.

Dickens confesses, then the thick of it begins.
People begin to talk.

Driven to distraction, Dickens makes a conscious choice to take Nelly for his mistress. Nelly tries to withdraw, but to no avail. In one scene, Catherine Dickens takes a mistakenly delivered love gift of a beaded red bracelet to Nelly. The bracelet resembles a panther's tongue, red and dripping in lust. Perhaps Mrs. Dickens gives it to Nelly as a weapon, an awareness of love as war. She lastly gives her rival a word of warning: watch out--- you will always be second to Dickens' adoring fans.

In such moments, the sluggish Mrs. Dickens preserves her honor.

Events boil and bubble over still more when Dickens has the unconscionable audacity to publish his intention in the paper with Mrs. Dickens destroyed and beside herself.

The tension and success of "The Invisible Woman" is mostly due to Ralph Fiennes who shows us both a likable and a thoroughly unlikeable man with neither aspect going over the top.

In one fade in, we see the dark face of Charles Dickens appear to cover the sky as a glowering Overlord. He's prepared to let nothing obstruct his way. After all, Dickens partitioned off his wife's room in a later segment, essentially walling her in alive.

What a guy.

Also a highlight is the appearance of Tom Hollander as Dickens' ally Wilkie Collins, who is beady-eyed and damp under his beard, a subtly unsavory character and a willing enabler in Dickens' sexist game of love without consequences.

Most of the tossing and turning (with much of it being fevered exhalations) is still debated as fiction. Many say that Nelly Ternan was only a friend and associate.

No matter which side you happen to fall however, with "The Invisible Woman", Ralph Fiennes has directed a capable bodice ripper, ( while still omitting the bodice ) in the style of a sweeping Merchant Ivory production.

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