The Invisible Woman (M) Limited national release from Thursday Muppets Most Wanted (G) National release Any Day Now (M) Limited national release
RALPH Fiennes is at the peak of an illustrious career, giving a wonderfully rich performance in Wes Anderson’s delicious The Grand Budapest Hotel, soon to be seen as M (replacing Judi Dench) in the next James Bond film, and now, with which he directed, playing the Victorian era’s greatest writer, Charles Dickens.
The film is based on the 1990 biography of Ellen “Nelly” Ternan by Claire Tomalin and explores the secret but potentially scandalous relationship between the famous author and the young actress. This relationship is, to some extent, speculative, since the correspondence between Dickens and Ternan was deliberately destroyed, but Tomalin’s book presents plenty of evidence.
Fiennes’s film, adapted by screenwriter Abi Morgan (who also scripted the Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady), unfolds in two time frames, beginning in 1883 (13 years after Dickens’s death) when Nelly (Felicity Jones), now Mrs Robinson, a headmaster’s wife, is living in the seaside town of Margate and is rehearsing schoolboys in an amateur production of No Thoroughfare, a play by Dickens and his friend Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander). As memories of life with her former lover flood back, Nelly, who is given to taking long walks along the beach, takes into her confidence the Rev William Benham (John Kavanagh).
She reveals how, in 1857, when she was 18 and living with her actress mother, Mrs Frances Ternan (Kristin Scott Thomas), she and her sisters met Dickens, then aged 45, when they appeared in a play co-written by Collins, The Frozen Deep, in Manchester.
Dickens was married to Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), who showed little interest in his work (not surprising, really, as she was the mother of 10 children), and there was an instant attraction between the celebrated author and the starstruck teenager that led, eventually, to a secret sexual relationship.
In his role as director, Fiennes succeeds in teasing out every nuance of this problematic relationship. At first, when Nelly displays a shy hero worship of the famous author, watched over by her stern yet sympathetic mother, the manners and morals of the era seem designed to prevent the development of a more intimate relationship, especially given that Dickens, the literary superstar of his era, is instantly recognised by almost everyone he encounters.
A key scene, in which Nelly helps Dickens count the money they’ve raised for a charity late one night while her mother sleeps (or pretends to sleep) on the sofa close by, is beautifully realised: here stilted conversation gradually drifts into something more personal. Impressive, too, is the scene in which Dickens takes Nelly to the home of Collins, where she meets his mistress and their child; although Nelly is shocked by the unorthodoxy of the arrangement, her relationship with Dickens continues.
The unforced intimacy with which Fiennes directs these scenes is testimony to his skill behind the camera — this is certainly an improvement on his only other film as director, the overblown version of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (2011). Rob Hardy’s interior camerawork is consistently low-key, as befits the gaslight era, though it’s a pity he resorts to a wobbly handheld look in a key scene.
The Invisible Woman, overall, is a film of intelligence and subtlety, and Jones’s performance as Nelly reflects exactly those qualities — she brings Nelly, with all her complexities, doubts and conflicted loyalties, vividly to life. WHEN the world’s best-loved glove puppets made a comeback in The Muppets (2011) the result was sheer delight — but maybe the new team behind Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest should have called it a day and rested on their laurels. has the same director (James Bobin) and co-writer (Nicholas Stoller), but the magic is largely missing this time. It starts promisingly enough with a rather good song about the pitfalls involved in doing a sequel but, after that, invention seems to flag and many opportunities are missed.
The plot involves a Kermit doppelganger, Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog, who takes the place of the beloved amphibian in a conspiracy involving the Muppets’ new manager, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), while the real Kermit is imprisoned in what appears to be a Soviet-era Russian gulag, run by the formidable Nadya (Tina Fey).
Badguy and Constantine plan to steal the crown jewels from the Tower of London and to that end they lead the Muppets on a wearying performance tour around various European capitals (Berlin, Madrid, Dublin), where gallery and museum robberies take place next to the venues where the shows are being staged.
Despite the presence of numerous mostly under-used guest stars, including Celine Dion and Christoph Waltz, the film feels listless and over-extended, and Ty Burrell adds nothing as a snobbish Interpol cop who, in the film’s most enervating running joke, is more interested in his meal breaks than his investigations.
Much better is the short film that precedes the feature, Party Central, a brief but genuinely amusing entry in the Monsters University franchise.
is a small-scale independently made film well worth seeking out. Though it doesn’t claim to be based on a true story, it has all the hallmarks of an authentic, personally experienced reminiscence. The year is 1979 and Rudy (Alan Cumming in an excellent performance) is lead singer in a drag act in a gay bar. Rudy’s neighbour, in the run-down apartment house where he lives, is a drug-addicted prostitute (Jamie Anne Allman) who neglects her son, Marco (Isaac Leyva), who has Down syndrome. Rudy befriends the boy and, when his mother is jailed, persuades her to give him temporary custody. Rudy, meanwhile, has moved in with Paul (Garret Dillahunt), a lawyer who works for the district attorney’s department.
The film, directed by Travis Fine, charts the The Invisible Woman;
Most Wanted, difficulties faced by Rudy and Paul as they fight the authorities to gain permission to look after Marco and keep him out of a home for the disabled. It’s a film that throws up some interesting challenges for an audience, and which is a reminder of a fairly recent time when homophobia was even more of a problem than it is today.
Young Leyva has a smile that lights up the screen, but the film makes the mistake of depicting several of the characters — Paul’s boss, a prosecutor, a judge — as though they were villains from some lesser movie. That the film overcomes this approach is testament to its essential spirit.