Invisibility is perhaps desirable if you are going to be the mistress of one of the most popular writers of all time. The story of Charles Dickens' mistress, a young actress named Nelly Ternan, 27 years his junior, is compelling material for Ralph Fiennes' second feature as director. Known for performances in The English Patient, Quiz Show, Schindler's List, and many others, including as Lord Voltemort in the Harry Potter films, Ralph Fiennes was celebrated at this year's New York Film Festival. As director and star of The Invisible Woman, adapted from Claire Tomalin's historic novel, he plays Charles Dickens as a boyish man in love with his mistress (Felicity Jones). Rather than being a woman scorned, the revelation is that Nelly survived potential scandal intact. Even Dickens' wife and mother of his 10 children, played with remarkable compassion by Joanna Scanlan, seemed to be okay with the arrangement.
Felicity Jones, with her heart-shaped lips, seems born to play period roles. At a recent celebration of The Invisible Woman at Le Cirque, Julie Taymor wanted to congratulate the young actress she cast as Miranda in her film of The Tempest (2010). Taymor's Tempest, you may remember, had the twist of Prospero being Prospera, with Helen Mirren playing maternal in this iconic Shakespearean role. As a director, Fiennes too celebrates the feminine. His directorial debut, Coriolanus (2012) was acclaimed for its women, Vanessa Redgrave and Jessica Chastain, playing against type: Redgrave's role is a mother who exults in war's gore. As to his portraying Dickens, Fiennes joked, the director wanted someone else, but the actor relished this role. Charming, charismatic, Fiennes' Dickens has a public to please, and he does.
As an actress, Felicity Jones is a secret weapon. Yes, she's great in these period films, but check her out in a contemporary piece called Breathe In, a hit at last year's Sundance Film Festival yet to open. She's "the other woman" to Amy Ryan, and unlike Dickens' wife, she's not having it.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.