The Invisible Woman – Film Review

The Invisible Woman - Felicity Jones

When watching a romantic drama you are well within your rights to expect the film to deliver two things; both romance and drama. Sadly The Invisible Woman does not satisfy in either of these departments as alas Felicity Jones has returned to films that aren’t quite good enough.

Ralph Fiennes is following up his perfectly fine directorial debut Coriolanus with a period drama about Charles Dickens (played by Fiennes) and his young mistress Nelly (Felicity Jones). Nelly is the invisible woman of the title as her relationship with Dickens is one that is both formally arranged and kept a secret. As a director Fiennes adapts well to the change of pace as The Invisible Woman adopts a much lighter, quieter, and subtler tone to Coriolanus and Ralph is more than capable of coaxing fantastic performances from his cast including, but not limited to, Joanna Scanlan, Tom Hollander, and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Sadly the one actor Fiennes fails to properly shepherd is himself. Much as in Coriolanus┬áhis performance feels all too stagey and over the top. Fiennes’ Dickens is a bounding man filled with silliness and joy but I could never quite shake the feeling that I was watching a performance rather than a real character. Fiennes’ acting was on display for all to see like seeing a giant zip going down the back of his costume. There is no denying that Ralph Fiennes is a fine actor but when it comes to directing himself on-screen I have so far found him a little too unrestrained and theatrical.

The Invisible Woman - Ralph Fiennes Felicity Jones

Felicity Jones in contrast is fantastic (of course I would say that). Her performance is one of subtlety and nuance which is often stomped out by Fiennes pantomiming around by her side. The film’s strongest moments come in its framing scenes in which an older Nelly is looking back on the affair as she faces moving on with her life. Dickens is now referred to as merely a family friend rather than the greatest love of her life. Jones’ stoney gaze as she walks along a beach contemplating her future and her past is a masterclass in understated performance that Fiennes should spend some time considering.

Back in the period of Nelly’s relationship with Dickens things unravel and the film fails to convince. I never really felt a spark between the pair of supposed lovers and their relationship felt cold and dispassionate as a result. While you could see on the surface why Dickens might be physically attracted to Nelly and she to his stature and confidence they never interacted enough to give one another to fall head over heels in love. We are supposed to believe in a love strong enough for Nelly’s mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) to allow the affair, and for Dickens to betray his wife (a brilliantly rejected and dejected Joanna Scanlan), but frankly it all seemed like they were getting a little carried away.

Without a romance to believe in and no real drama considering everybody pretty much OK-ed the affair, we are left with just a collection of fine performances, one overacting director, and a lot of wigs and bonnets. Not without its merits The Invisible Woman is another case of a good premise going unfulfilled.

The Invisible Woman is in selected UK cinemas on 7th February and is released nationwide on 21st February.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

About Time – Film Review

About Time

Having seen About Time over a week ago I seemed to spend a lot of time this past weekend bringing it up in conversation so I think it deserves a few words from me over here.

About Time comes from writer/director Richard Curtis who has spent his career teaching us to expect well written and genuinely funny romantic comedies as rich English people fall in love with a few pitfalls along the way. About Time doesn’t stray too far from this template but is notable for being Curtis’ first foray into Sci-Fi as he dabbles with some time travel (let’s ignore Doctor Who and Blackadder’s Christmas Carol for now).

After turning 21 Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is told by his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in his family can time travel simply by going into a dark enclosed space and thinking about a specific moment from their past. Any complicated time travel mechanics or rules are eschewed in favour of a more simplistic approach so that the focus can be on the story and the characters rather than any Sci-Fi nonsense. Tim uses his new power mostly to fix social situations and in the romantic pursuit of a young American woman called Mary (Rachel McAdams) who catches his eye in a pitch black restaurant. The focus of the story would seem to be the romance between Tim and Mary but what has been lingering with me ever since was the relationship between Tim and his father. That is where the heartstrings were really tugged and the tear ducts lubricated.

With the presence of a Sci-Fi plot device and a focus on emotions and character over the fictional science I know what you are asking yourself… Is this HeKniSciFi? A quick look at Rachel McAdams cardigan should tell you all you need to know:

About Time - Domhall Gleeson & Rachel McAdams

Just look at how warm she looks!

About Time is a flawed film. The time travel logic doesn’t always make any sense, or stick by its own loose rules, and the central love story is charming but a little bland. Somehow though none of this matters. The mechanism of the time travel is not what is important to Curtis (or me) nearly so much as the impact that the time travel has on Tim and his relationships. Though this supernatural plot device Tim is taught that there are certain things in life that can’t be changed, that sometimes bad things have to happen, and that there comes a time to let go. Time travel here is as it always should be, servicing the film but not dominating it. And as for the lacklustre love story… the world’s best father-son relationship more than makes up for that.

Richard Curtis isn’t making a time travel film with the intention of boggling your mind, all he wants to do is warm your heart and he succeeds here with flying colours. I very nearly cried (tears may have formed but they did not fall) and that is no mean feat. While the characters may seem unrelatable with their large homes and clipped English accents but Curtis has a way of reaching past this and touching you regardless. Unintentionally creepy metaphor there…

Moving away from any insinuation of Richard Curtis molesting his audience I’ll take a paragraph to compliment the supporting cast which includes great performances from the likes of Tom Hughes, Vanessa Kirby, Will Merrick, Richard Cordery, Lindsay Duncan, Lydia Wilson, and the fantastic Tom Hollander. We are also treated to a few brief appearances from Margot Robbie who is a rising star and has been troubling me since her Neighbours days.

About Time - Margot Robbie

Bill Nighy completely steals the show in a film best watched snuggling with a loved one on a rainy day. Fathers and sons will get the most out of it though may prefer not to snuggle while they watch. Leave any cynicism at home and enjoy what will become a staple film in my collection and try not to think how good the film would have been had Zooey Deschanel not dropped out.