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Movie review: The Invisible Woman

Updated on February 9, 2014

In 1998 John Madden directed the whimsical Shakespeare in Love, starring Joseph Fiennes as the world famous bard.

Now his older sibling Ralph stars in and directs this film about the other really good English writer Charles Dickens. And just as these two writers are poles apart – except for being, you know, English, and really quite good at writing and that – their approach to their subject matter is also completely opposite.

It's 1883 and Charles Dickens (Fiennes) has established himself as one of the country's greatest writers. Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones) is putting on a school production of The Frozen Deep, a play written by Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander) and Dickens. Although she has virtually everything Dickens ever wrote, she's more than just a fan.

Whilst putting on the production, and talking to her peers about the writer, she's haunted by the memories of how she and her family first met him and how her relationship developed into something more with this most famous of individuals.

After his impressive directorial debut with 2011's Coriolanus, Fiennes has chosen this disappointingly lukewarm tale as his follow-up. Everything about it is dull; from the grey settings to the performances, the film is devoid of any kind of vibrant spark.

Fiennes himself portrays Dickens as just an average chap – which he may well have been – but if the idea was to sensationalise his life somewhat with the story of this affair, it fails miserably. When Fiennes and Jones share the screen they bring with them the intensity of a lump lard. No sparks, no sizzle, nothing. In fact, for the most part, it's the most annoyingly polite affair ever to be filmed.

That would be OK to live with if the script offered anything else, like the odd laugh perhaps, but no. The film, like many of the characters involved, is devoid of any personality.

It's a co BBC production, and yet it doesn't have any of the warmth or charm of any BBC period drama, which is the real tragedy.

The way that Fiennes has feebly told the coming together of Dickens and Ternan, it would have been preferable if he took a hint from the film's title in that she (and this film) should have remained unseen.

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