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Film Review: "The Invisible Woman"

Great expectations, dull results

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Ralph Fiennes' sophomore directorial turn, "The Invisible Woman," is a handsomely crafted (it boasts Oscar-nominated costume design) but rather bloodless recounting of author Charles Dickens (played by Fiennes) and his secret romantic relationship with 18-year-old stage actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones). Ternan is said to be the inspiration for several female characters -- including Estella from "Great Expectations" -- in the author's later works.

That "The Invisible Woman" is so unremarkable isn't really the fault of Fiennes. He again proves himself a competent director, but Abi Morgan's screenplay never gives us a reason to care about the relationship we're watching unfold. Similar stories have been presented dozens of times before: a pretty young thing catches the eye of an artistic genius, and as she becomes his muse, their relationship ultimately brings misery to all involved. Morgan doesn't add any particularly new insight to justify the film's existence, and if the man involved didn't happen to be Charles Dickens, there'd be little reason for us to care at all. Still, the performances are generally good. Fiennes and Jones make for convincing, if never exactly passionate lovers, but props must be given to Joanna Scanlan (playing Dickens' long-suffering wife, Catherine), who wrings maximum sympathy and emotion out of a severely underwritten role.

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