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12/30/2013 04:24 pm ET Updated Mar 01, 2014

Popcorn Preview: The Invisible Woman

The Invisible Woman (2013)
Cast includes: Felicity Jones (Like Crazy), Ralph Fiennes (Skyfall), Kristin Scott Thomas (Gosford Park), Joanna Scanlan (Girl with a Pearl Earring), Tom Hollander (Gosford Park)
Director: Ralph Fiennes (Coriolanus)
Writers: Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady), based on a book by Claire Tomalin
Genre: Drama | Biography | Romance (111 minutes)

1885, Margate England... Nelly is late for practice... overseeing the high school's production of "The Frozen Deep" by Charles Dickens. "Walking the dunes again?" her husband asks. It's been over a decade since Dickens died, and some are dismissive of his literary legacy... "a little bleak." However, Rev. Benham defends him saying, "Dickens makes us laugh at our folly." Benham senses that Nelly has a lot on her mind and invites him self on one of her walks. She politely declines... "I walk at quite a pace." Years earlier, Nelly Ternan meets Charles Dickens in Manchester, where she and her sisters are performing in "The Frozen Deep." Dickens introduces his wife, Catherine, and assorted children... all 10 of them. Nelly's no great actress, but Dickens believes "she has something." At the party afterward, Catherine asks Nelly, "Are you an admirer of my husband's work?" Indeed she is. "Fiction is designed to entertain," says Catherine dismissively. "Surly it is more than that. It changes us," Nelly responds.

As a theater family, the Ternans are destined to encounter Dickens from time to time. Dickens is well known not only for his plays, but for his captivating readings of his work. Fans adore him. When he shows up in Doncaster at the same time as the Ternans, it's not all together a coincidence, and Mrs. Ternan wonders what it means. Back in London, we see that the Ternans live quite a humble existence. In fact, when Dickens drops in on them, there's only one chair in the house that's not wobbly. In a private conversation, Mrs. Ternan expresses concern about Nelly's future. Dickens offers... "If I can be of assistance in any way..." But Mrs. Ternan is cautious... "I cannot risk Nelly's reputation." Mrs. Ternan has never worried about her other two daughters, because they're quite talented, but Nelly... "her talents lie elsewhere."

Nelly will indeed become Dickens's mistress. But if you see this film expecting a steamy romance (the impression you get from the trailer), you're likely to be disappointed. While Nelly admires Dickens greatly, she's not drawn to him romantically... at least, not overtly so. That's what makes this film so interesting. You have to be patient and willing to forget modern-day social conventions, immersing yourself in the complexities of the Victorian era. We get a small taste of what life can be like for those without advantages, and clearly, the Ternans have concerns about making ends meet. It wasn't an unusual custom for older, wealthy men to support a beautiful younger woman, and Nelly's mother is the first to realize that this kind of arrangement could be an opportunity for her daughter. Yet, a relationship with one of the most popular men in England brings its own set of complications. There had been rumors about the affair at the time, but they were so adamantly denied that Nelly remained mostly invisible to the public. Dickens lived for public adoration, and Nelly could never be a part of that world. Even though Dickens seeks the limelight, he also laments the hardships. "Admirers," he tells Nelly, "wish you to be more than you can be."

3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
For Charles Dickens, taking a mistress is not simply about romance... it's also a negotiation

Popcorn Profile
Rated: R
Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Sensitive
Distribution: Art House
Mood: Neutral
Tempo: In No Hurry
Visual Style: High-End Production
Nutshell: Charles Dickens's mistress
Language: Artful
Social Significance: Informative & Thought Provoking

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