The Invisible Woman

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Invisible Woman Movie Poster Image
Dickens love story with a bit of sex and a disturbing image.
  • R
  • 2013
  • 111 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages
A famous author separates from his wife to take a younger lover, but he's unable to make his relationship public; he must lie about it. This seems like more of an issue of the times (the mid-19th century) than due to the relationship itself, so viewers may be left wondering what the big deal was.
Positive Role Models & Representations
Charles Dickens might be a literary role model, but this movie spends more time on his relationship troubles than on his writing. Nelly Ternan seems highly intelligent, but she is trapped and defined by the love of a powerful man.
After a main character has a miscarriage, there's a disturbing shot of the dead baby, covered in blood. He's wrapped up and carried away, but Dickens stops to take a clipping of the baby's hair. We experience a train crash from inside the train, and then we see the wreckage from outside. A main character is shown with blood on her forehead.
In the prologue (1883, after Dickens' death), Nelly is shown having sex with her current husband; she moans with pleasure, but there's no nudity. In one scene, Dickens walks in on his wife dressing. Her naked bottom is shown, but she covers herself up when she turns to face him. Later, Dickens and Nelly are shown having sex, but it's really only a shot of their faces and some subtle body movements and heavy breathing. A scene takes place in a London alleyway, where prostitutes are working. One offers "a shilling a blow."
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters sometimes drink socially (champagne, etc.).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Invisible Woman tells the story of Charles Dickens and his love affair with a woman he was forced to keep secret. There's a disturbing shot of a dead bloody baby following a miscarriage, plus a train crash and a bloody head wound. Two sex scenes are shown, but are mainly suggested by moaning and heavy breathing rather than any nudity or sexual images. A woman is briefly seen naked from behind, and there's a scene in an alleyway with prostitutes who say "a shilling a blow." Unfortunately, even teens who are interested in Dickens will probably get very little out of this superbly designed, but tepid movie.

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What's the story?

In the mid-1850s, Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) and his writing partner Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander) are staging their play The Frozen Deep. A young actress, Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones) is introduced to Dickens. She's a fan, has read all his books, and can discuss them intelligently. They become enchanted with one another, even though Dickens is married. Over a period of time, Dickens makes his feelings known and separates from his wife, and Nelly becomes pregnant, but he still can't make his love or relationship for Nelly public. Add this to the fact that Dickens is at least 25 years older, and is at least half devoted to his adoring public. How can such a relationship last?

Is it any good?

For THE INVISIBLE WOMAN, actor Ralph Fiennes steps behind the camera for the second time after his clever, powerful Coriolanus, but this time the results are a bit more tepid. Working from a book by Claire Tomalin, Fiennes seems intent on preserving factual details, but the resulting story probably could have used some embellishment. The relationship isn't terribly steamy or illicit or passionate. Dickens doesn't seem to view Nelly as his muse, and he seems perfectly able to live -- and write -- without her.
Characters speak to one another in hushed whispers as if a great deal is at stake, but the movie never makes the motivations behind this believable or clear. Some details that seem important, such as Nelly's pregnancy, are rushed, and the characters merely look pained by the whole situation, rather than tormented or heartbroken. However, the film's design and direction and the performances are all impeccable. It's a first-class production, merely passionless.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about relationships and marriage. How have the rules and traditions of marriage changed since the time depicted in this movie? How would this movie's story have been different if it happened today?
  • The movie contains some disturbing scenes of violence. Were these scenes necessary? How did they affect the overall movie?
  • How much did you know about Charles Dickens going in? What did you learn? Does the movie make you want to read more about him? Or read his books?

Movie details

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