Dickens’ complicated relationship in The Invisible Woman

The Invisible Woman stars Ralph Fiennes as Charles Dickens and Felicity Jones as his young lover Ellen (Nelly) Ternan. Despite being married with several children, Dickens is attracted to Nelly when she takes up a role in one of his plays.

For her part, Nelly is an avid fan of Dickens, absorbing his books with an emotional intensity that dictates the action of the film. The two develop an uneasy relationship. It flaunts the societal conventions of the time by their choice to live together. But at the same time, their relationship bows to societal dictates in their choice of living, hiding away in a quiet home in the countryside.

Years after Dickens has died, Nelly, now married and with a child of her own, reflects on her past. Unable to come to terms with what transpired, Nelly remains a tortured soul until she chooses to live differently. This she does right at the end of the film. This choice is mirrored in the ending of Dickens’ well-known work Great Expectations, an ending Nelly ultimately rejects.

Bereft of any humour, The Invisible Woman is a serious film that relentlessly shows how difficult it is to truly know and connect with another person. It opens at Ster Kinekor theatres in South Africa on 4 July.

Felicity Jones plays Charles Dickens' lover in The Invisible Woman

Felicity Jones plays Charles Dickens’ lover in The Invisible Woman. Photo: Creative Commons

Ralph Fiennes plays Charles Dickens in The Invisible Woman. Photo: Creative Commons

Ralph Fiennes plays Charles Dickens in The Invisible Woman. Photo: Creative Commons

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