Wednesday, 15 January 2014

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN - Review By Greg Klymkiw

The Invisible Woman (2013) ***
Dir. Ralph Fiennes
Starring: Felicity Jones, Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander, Joanna Scanlan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The May-December romance is always a popular road travelled in the movies since it's so much more pleasant to eyeball the gorgeous and glamorous as they play out their trysts instead of the reality which, almost always involves a beautiful young woman and some smelly old codger (or, vice-versa). (In addition to real life, one can see similar regurgitative scenarios play out in Woody Allen movies.) Even thinking about the reality of May-December couplings is pretty sickening, but thank Christ for the movies!!! On a big screen, beautiful people - no matter what their age - are still just that. (And even the smelly old codgers in Woody Allen movies are pretty sexy.)

The Invisible Woman seems a perfect choice for the sophomore directorial effort from Ralph Fiennes, following his relentlessly twitchy and kinetic adaptation Shakespeare's Coriolanus. That was one delectable, blood-soaked dive into war-mongering testosterone a la The Bard of Avon, with dollops of contemporary anti-war sentiments. Nothing, then, could be further away from his previous film than the Victorian gentility on display in this love story between author Charles Dickens (Fiennes) and the young, VERY YOUNG actress and fan Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones).

From the moment Dickens sees the tender, tasty morsel o' Nelly, he wants nothing more than to aim his socially conscious schwance into the maw of the child's virginal pie o' Hair, but since he's married to the mother of a ridiculous brood o' Dickens-seeded-progeny, he'll need to conduct his dirty desires without divorcing the dour porker (Joanna Scanlan) bearing his wedding ring and who gazes mournfully, if not bovinely at her hubby's roving eye.

Since Nelly comes from a family of thespians, it's her Mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) who must provide the blessing for her daughter to become the secret mistress of Mr. Dickens. Nelly, you see, is not a very good actress and Mom figures she'll be better off as a kept woman of one of the world's most celebrated authors. It helps, of course, that Nelly loves every word Dickens has chiseled onto the page.

This, however, will prove to be a long, but rather unsatisfying tryst. Dickens humiliates his wife by making his affair public and goes so far as to cruelly force his loyal porker to confront his mistress to see precisely WHY he needs this bit on the side.

Dickens, as played by Fiennes, is pretty much a prig AND an asshole. Why any woman would put up with him seems one of the profoundest mysteries of the universe.

This is one strange movie. There's nothing romantic OR sexy about it. The pace borders on the lugubrious and in spite of the lush photography and stunning period detail, we feel like we're almost a party to a kind of neo-realist plunge into the inequity suffered by women in this time, place and world.

Nelly's story is almost unwaveringly sad and one certainly wishes to doff a cap in Fiennes' direction for tackling this material in such a perversely cold fashion. Other than a clumsy framing device to present the tale in flashback, it's a generally compelling and fine picture which, in spite of the queerly muted quality, proves often moving and, indeed, bordering on tragedy.

This is finally no traditional May-December romance. We do not, for a moment, ever feel like we want these two people together. If anything, we want poor Nelly to run away as fast as humanly possible and for Dickens to just grow the fuck up.

"The Invisible Woman" is currently in theatrical release via Mongrel Media.