In The Invisible Woman, opening this Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre and at Cinemark Valley View, Voldemort himself (Ralph Fiennes) dons a baller goatee and does his finest Charles Dickens impression. And that impression, to the extent that it corroborates our image of this guy who we tend to know only as a name — the name behind so much of our high school required reading and a name which was, for at least a couple 19th-century decades, the most famous in England — is excellent (i.e. the impression is).
Fiennes is a commanding presence on screen and he seems, as an actor and director, much like his countrymen in his natural familiarity with the Victorian/Industrial Revolution era. Brits love making movies about men in top hats as much as Americans love making movies about men in spandex. This says a great deal about our national brands of escapism.
That said, Dickens isn't what you'd call a hero here. The film is not a sweeping biopic of his life but rather a sliver, during the height of his literary fame. Dickens falls ass-over-teakettle in love with a young actress named Nelly (a prim Felicity Jones) when she and her sisters and her mother, performers all, arrive in Manchester last-minute to shore up a Dickens' play. Nelly is a Dickens admirer, a teenager who has read every word he's ever written twice. (Recall that Dickens was singularly prolific, so the reading-everything-twice feat represents, among other things, a pretty serious time commitment).
Dickens is portrayed as a good and honest man, but also a man who loves his audience — the question of what he loves most (i.e. woman or fame) is one of the central tensions on which the movie hinges — and a man who, above all, gets what he wants. Nelly becomes his mistress despite her abiding discomfort with the moral and sexual pioneerism at play and the conflicted support of her mother (Kristen Scott-Thomas, on point as ever).
During the roaring 80s (1880s), before TV and the internet, writers really were the celebs upon whom the masses would throw their roses and affections. You really get the sense in The Invisible Woman how both entertainment and celebrity credentials have evolved over the past 150 years.
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