I did not plan to see this film, feeling that seeing 'The Invisible Woman' did not offer me anything unexpected, however a quirk of fate meant that I was fated to see it. This is rather appropriate, since fate seems to play an important part in this film.
Film opens on a beach. A woman is striding along it with a most purposeful gait. However she has rather a distracted manner about her. As the film develops, through long flash-back scenes, we learn about her earlier life.
The woman, really no more than a slip of a girl, is Nelly, played by Felicity Jones. Nelly is an actress, part of an acting family. A play is the device which causes Nelly to meet the famous writer Charles Dickens, played by actor Ralph Feinnes.
This film is a true story of how their meeting changed their lives. In style it reminded me of 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' (1981). Like that film, this one too jumps backwards and forwards in time. However, unlike 'TFLW', this film is not a film within a film. Although, having said that, the play where they met, does set the tone for the film. This is of course a story of fatal attraction, however there are no bunny-boilers in this film. Here rather, the protagonists, play out to the full, the hand dealt by destiny.
The film is set in the Victorian era. This was a time of high moral standards that restricted freedom in social behaviour. It was also a period of much (secret) hypocrisy. All this is captured well in the film. Captured too, is the keen eye of Charles Dickens, which made him justly famous. This is shown well in a key scene.
Charles Dickens was very famous, and his celebrity-status has an almost modern-day feel to it. He is a larger-than-life character, the life-and-soul of the party, a real party animal. Other actors could have played the role, the excellent Simon Callow has in the past, however one year on from his title-role in 'Lincoln', once again Ralph Feinnes becomes the character he is playing. Not for one moment do you doubt that you are seeing Charles Dickens in this film.
Wilkie Collins, a friend of Dickens, is played by Tom Hollander. This supporting role is well played by this versatile actor. Last year, he impressed this reviewer, with his two contrasting roles in 'About Time' and 'Byzantium'.
While the men in this film are shown enjoying life to the full, the same cannot be said about the women. In the title role, and completely deserving of her top billing, Felicity Jones gives a pitch-perfect performance. We see an innocent girl mature, realize the realities of her situation and the times, but at the same time remaining gutsy and upholding her standards. These inner struggles are at the heart of this film.
Nelly's mother is played by Kirstin Scott Thomas, and she gives a very subtle performance, that perfectly captures the ambiguities of the situation, and the time. Joanne Scanlan, has perhaps a very hard role, playing Mrs Dickens. She is the mother of his large brood of children, some still young children. However the scenes between husband and wife show that they are very different and convey problems in the marriage. Mrs Dickens seems a rather stoic figure. She is not portrayed very sympathetically, but rather as dull, quiet and unimaginative. In this film, the part of Mrs Dickens, was never going to be an easy or sympathetic one, but Miss Scanlan delivers a believable and poignant one.
All of the women in this film show that they are trapped by their environment. Their choices are limited, and this is shown well in the film, as well as by the actresses playing their parts.
The last film I saw at the cinema, previous to this, was 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Agent'. Like that film, this one too is directed by one of the actors, and also directed well too. Mr Feinnes demonstrates a fine directing eye. I particularly liked, the slightly disconcerting shots; the complete silence that emphasised the enormity of the passion, the extreme close-ups that reinforced the concept of memories. Even the short horse race scene, which at first seemed artificial, ended authentically, and very cleverly conveyed the anticipation, immediacy, and speed, of a race. From the first bustle onwards, costumes and all other aspects of this period drama seemed truly authentic and without a wrong note. Bravo! Mr Feinnes, Bravo!
This thought-provoking period-drama has elements of love, romance and tragedy. It is a perfectly crafted piece of work and a fitting tribute to all involved. True story. 10/10. Bravissimo!