The Invisible Woman: suffering is stronger than all other teaching

Intimate and intelligent, Ralph Fiennes‘ second effort as director is the story about the affair between a mid-aged Charles Dickens (Fiennes) and the young actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones).

Their relationship, after the first meeting (when Nelly was a new actress in Dickens’ play The Frozen Deep) grew deeply but slowly.

The writer found for the first time someone able to understand poetry and literature.

Dickens decided to leave his wife and set up home with Nelly.

They built a relationship that was “not talked” in the society.

A great privilege of this film is that are we spectators, perhaps guided by our personal experience, to decide who is the “invisible woman” of the title.

Nelly, whose life was only darkness and shadows (as she said speaking about Great Expectations’ end), or the abandoned wife Catherine (Joanna Scanalan)?

Drawing on the biography by academic Claire Tomalin “The invisible woman”, that sound as a more well-known superhero film, has the power to touch hearts and souls.

The movie starts with Nelly’s figure striding alone across Margate beach, in a black dress.

We are in the 1880s then about 30 years later Dickens’ death.

Nelly is now a teacher and she is living a new life under another name as wife of a schoolmaster (the BBC Musketeer Tom Burke).

She is wondering on the beach because she is helping stage a school production of the play that Dickens co-wrote and all her memories with the writer come up again…and the flashback starts.

It’s the local vicar (John Kavanagh) to understand Nelly’s pain and torment. And he discovers her true identity in a touching ending that opens the perspective of the film-goer and reader to a new reading of the end of one of the greatest works written by Charles Dickens: Great Expectations.

And it is here that we understand that “The Invisible Woman” is not just a romance but is the story of the pain of a big secret. The pain of a life, like all our lives, made by “great expectations”. But, in Nelly’s case, also made by the darkness and shadows in which Pip and Estella are together, but not united as Dickens wrote in his original end.

A great screenplay by Abi Morgan, the excellent performances and the amazing design by Maria Djurkovic are the finishing touch.

Everything is detailed  and the recreation of the 19th-Century is quite perfect.

Fiennes captures Dickens’ energy, his love for his work and the difficulty of intellectual misunderstanding with the people closest to him. And this is why he felt in love with Nelly: he finally found someone who, despite the age difference, understood him intellectually.

“I have lived my life in the pages of those novels, I should not have expected their author to have lived so quiet a life”

…said the vicar.

Is this not our burden? We do not live perhaps all of Great Expectations?


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  1. Pingback: FTV de Montecarlo: 15 minutes with RIVER’s creators | Drive In Magazine

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