SYNOPSIS: Nelly is haunted by her past. Her memories take us back in time to follow the story of her exciting but fragile relationship with Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes). Dickens - famous, controlling and emotionally isolated within his success - falls for Nelly. As Nelly becomes the focus of Dickens' passion and his muse, for both of them secrecy is the price, and for Nelly a life of "invisibility".


There must be a reason why this British biographical drama never made it to local cinemas. Although it’s got Ralph Voldemort Fiennes taking on the director’s role, and features the sweet Felicity Jones as Charles Dickens’ (played by Fiennes himself, no less) young lover, these elements do not appeal enough to local distributors to screen it on the big screens. Therefore, here we get the movie on home entertainment. Which is might as well, because the 111 minute film is a slow burning piece of work which may not go down too well with today’s viewers with short attention spans.

Based on the book The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin and a screenplay by Abi Morgan, the film touches on the secret love affair between Dickens and Nelly Ternan, which lasted for 13 years until his death in 1870.

The film tells the story from Ternan’s point of view, who at age 18 falls in love with Dickens, then the unhappily married father of 10 children. Despite the heavy handed approach, the movie is basically an extended flashback interrupted once in a while by scenes of an older frustrated Nelly, walking breathlessly on a beach. It’s difficult to see what exactly Nelly has to be so unhappy about though, particularly when you compare her life to the plight of Catherine Dickens (the wonderful Joanna Scanlan), Dickens’ sweetly sad wife. Hence, it becomes a little difficult to emphatise with Ternan, unless you go with the notion that love knows no common sense.

Fiennes keeps his direction restrained, concentrating on small moments rather than grand gestures to powerful effect.

The cast is unfaultable. Fiennes is superb as Dickens. Suitably bewhiskered, he looks surprisingly like the author, but it’s his portrayal of the complex, driven private man behind the boundless enthusiasm and charisma of Dickens’s public image that makes his performance special. Jones is even better, with her subtly expressive face conveying the emotional turmoil of being passionately adored but forced by Victorian propriety and her lover’s fame to remain invisible. Expressing much while often saying little, Jones has a mesmerising screen presence, a performer behind whose face you can see the most complex and subtle thought processes at work. 

Fans of Dickens’ works would embrace this handsomely produced film, with the author’s references scattered throughout the slow moving plot. The period drama is a lavish production (Michael O’ Connor’s work on the movie earned him a Best Costume Design at the 86th Academy Awards), and is a visual treat and a brainy exercise for those who are willing to sit through it. 


For a movie like this, you’d expect lots of bonus materials, and there are all in place. Here you get a detailed Commentary with Ralph Fiennes and Felicity Jones. There is also a montage of the stars On the Red Carpet at the Toronto Premiere, an informative piece featuring SAG Foundation Conversations with Ralph Fiennes & Felicity Jones, and a clip from the Toronto International Film Festival Press Conference


The visual transfer complements the movie’s excellent production values, and there are English and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital language tracks to choose from. 



Review by John Li



Genre: Drama
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander, Joanna Scanlan, Perdita Weeks, Amanda Hale, Tom Burke, John Kavanagh, Michael Marcus
Rating: NC-16 (Some Sexual Scenes)
Year Made: 2013
Official Website:


- Commentary with Ralph Fiennes and Felicity Jones
- On the Red Carpet at the Toronoto Premiere
- SAG Foundation Conversations with Ralph Fiennes and 
Felicity Jones
- Toronto International Film Festival Press Conference


Languages: English/Thai
Subtitles: English/Korean/Thai/Traditional Chinese

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0/5.1
Running Time: 1 hr 51 mins
Region Code: 3