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On the dickishness of Dickens

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The Invisible woman

So it happened one day that Charles Dickens grew tired of his wife. She had given birth to enough children to fill a sports team and you all know what that does to a woman in terms of body shape and fatigue. Of course he dumped her. He didn’t tell her or his children about it in person; he posted it as an announcement in the morning paper. (I suppose it was the equivalence to if Brad Pitt had dumped Angelina Jolie through a public Facebook announcement, if Angelina Jolie hadn’t been a famous actress, but just an anonymous wife.)

After this he felt free to engage more with his new love interest, which he already had been dating, or rather stalking, for a while: an 18 year old actress, half his own age. Young enough to be her child, young enough to give him the fulltime attention and admiration that he thought he was entitled to as a Big Name Writer. Dickens put her in a house well outside of London, conveniently out of reach of the public life. However he kept refusing to acknowledge her existence to the world. He was a famous man with a reputation to think of, she was nothing. So she became yet another invisible woman.

Intentionally dickish?
I left The Invisible Woman with a large lump of anger in my stomach. I was fuming thinking about the selfish, lying little creep, who personified what his name suggested. A full-fledged dick.

The question is: is this working as intended? Did the director Ralph Fiennes indeed want to put the light on what condition women lived under in the 19th century, how they walked in the shadows of men, invisible and always in survival mode? Was it on purpose that he played Dickens in a way that I found him almost as bad as Voldemort?

To be honest I wasn’t entirely sure of the answer to that. I might very well be a harsher judge of Dickens than Fiennes is. Perhaps he found something sympathetic in the man. Maybe he believed in the connection between the author and his mistress, that there was more than just an old man’s horniness, that this love affair was genuine and worth giving up everything for? However, if he believed so, I’m afraid he didn’t manage to convince me. I didn’t sense any chemistry whatsoever between the two of them, and this makes the movie a lot less engaging than it otherwise would have been.

As a costume drama this film is absolutely ok. Without being a historian, the art direction looks flawless to me. The dresses and hair styles are – as they should be in this kind of movie – fantastic. And if you like to see people taking long, upset walks along the beach while the waves are roaring and sad violin music is playing in the background, this is definitely for you.

My lack of sympathy for Dickens and lack of interest in the young actress, who is portrayed in a rather vague way (typically you see her mostly from behind), kept me most of the time at a distance, apart from those moments when I got really annoyed with the dickishness. More than once did I think that I’d rather have seen this story told from the perspective of Dickens poor wife. She’s just a minor character in the film, but every scene that she’s in stands out compared to the rest.

A recommendation
If you want to see a truly remarkable costume drama which involves authors and love with hindrance on the way, I would rather recommend you to see Jane Campion’s Bright Star. See there’s a love story you really believe and engage in! And no dickishness, at least not from the love couple.

The Invisible Woman (Ralph Fiennes, UK 2014) My rating: 3,5/5

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A few other Swedish bloggers have also seen. See what they had to say about it (in Swedish):

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Written by Jessica

July 16, 2014 at 6:00 am