"It comes down to the wonderful cast and direction as well, that this film is as captivating and fresh as it is"

It is time to turn the spotlight on the man behind the stories, and to reveal his secret mistress - The Invisible Woman.

Through precious costumes, fine acting and flickering Rembrandt lighting we are lead behind the velvet curtain to discover Charles Dickens’ personal life, based on a biography by Claire Tomalin. It reveals a real-life character and plot as complex, amusing and beautiful as his works of fiction.

And in fiction is also where the film starts. Nelly Ternan [Felicity Jones] is directing her son’s school play production of a Dickens’ classic.

It brings up tumultuous memories of when she met Dickens [Ralph Fiennes] in her youth. She keeps the details of their encounter secret from her husband and friends. But long troubled walks along the pale sands of Moorgate reveal that there is a storm of emotions hidden behind her hushed lips.

Flashbacks take us there, Dickens is at the height of his career, Middle-aged, he is boisterous and popular and married with ten kids. Nelly is 18 and just starting out as an actress, pretty and naive, still very much under the wings of her mother [Kristin Scott Thomas]. But a romantic connection sparks over candle light and a shared love of witty and profound verse.

This evokes an avalanche of moral dilemmas. For Dickens, he has a wife and a large family to consider as well as his reputation and public life. For Nelly, the attitudes of the time make her position as the “other woman” even more controversial than it would be today.

She tries to resist his courtship. An effort that proves to be in vain, naturally, as they both eventually succomb to their romantic desires.

But the circumstances never really clear up and Nelly and Dickens’ relationship is kept hidden until his death. Two decades later, Nelly is still trying to come to terms with their relationship, even though now she is happily married.

Abi Morgan’s (Shame, The Iron Lady) screenplay is great. It allows for the characters to develop deep and naturally - we are let in on their worst vices as well as the peak of their brilliance. And for a costume drama, there is nothing in the rigidness of the pretty Victorian corsets that makes the film feel dated or imposed. 

It comes down to the wonderful cast and direction as well, that this film is as captivating and fresh as it is. Felicity Jones gives a stellar performance, giving the film its spirit through her effortless display of emotion, thought and contagious romantic sheer. Joanna Scanlan is brilliant as Dickens' betrayed wife, and Kristin Scott Thomas lends her magnificently expressive eyes to perfectly portray her deep concerns for her daughter’s future.

It’s easy to understand why Ralph Fiennes wanted the job of playing Charles Dickens as well as directing The Invisible Woman. It’s a charming character with a great literary talent but with hard decisions to make. Fiennes manages to capture it all with his feet firmly on the ground.

The Invisible Woman is a gorgeous cinematic tour of Victorian Britain, and with so talented actors and actresses, I think this film is destined to be a classic within its genre.