Having spent the last month or so studying Dickens and the condition of England in the 19th century, a fellow student and I decided to go and see The Invisible Woman, the story of Charles Dickens and his young mistress, Nelly.
The showing was in one of the small auditoriums and despite the lateness in the cinematic diary we were not the only customers of the afternoon. Of the 15-20 members of the audience my friend and I were the youngest, interestingly this did not mean that the auditorium was the model of propriety and good manners. To our left sat a couple of friends, one of whom was partially deaf and commented rather loudly throughout the film. To our right were a couple in the full throws of a cold, coughing and spluttering the entire way through. Behind and to our left were the group of friends with the cellophane bag of sweets individually wrapped in – oh yes, cellophane and behind to the right was the man that had to tell the woman next to him to stop texting as it was distracting.
The film itself proved to be a useful reinforcement of details we had studied such as Dickens's journal, Household Words and his trips to Manchester to name but two. It was also an interesting perspective of the man who's mastery of words is more renowned now than ever, who spoke up for the working classes and the poor but who it seems was deeply flawed when it came to relationships with women. Emulating Dickens’s books, the film had a large element of bleakness; here was an ambassador of social ideals with a wife and large family, pursuing and compromising a girl half his age. There were many (too many) meaningful close ups of Nelly and Charles begging you to read the subtext. Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander) brought some light relief as Dickens’s bohemian friend and Catherine Dickens (JoannaScanlan) was a marvel. “Bastard!” exclaimed our deaf companion when Dickens was particularly cruel to his wife. Fiennes played his role convincingly but Scanlan stood out more.