In 1857, Dickens (Ralph Fiennes), was producing Willkie Collins’ play, “The Frozen Deep,” a melodramatic tragedy inspired by the loss of the Franklin expedition searching for the Northwest Passage. Dickens was essentially a co-author with Collins, produced and directed the production, and starred as “Richard Wardour.” Dickens staged a production of the play in Manchester as a benefit for the widow of a friend, and engaged actress Frances Ternan (Kristen Scott Thomas) and two of her daughters to play the female roles. When one of the older sisters has a conflict, youngest sister Ellen (Felicity Jones) fills in and comes to Dickens’ attention.
By this time, the great author has become bored and jaded with his loyal but stolid wife, Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), and finds himself irresistibly attracted to the young, lovely, and vivacious Ellen. She, a fan of Dickens’ work, is flattered to receive the attentions of the English-speaking world’s greatest living author, but has no desire to become a mistress, even to an acknowledgedly great man.
The movie plays out how their relationship develops: a gentle courtship on Dickens’ part, a recognition of realities on her part. (She overhears her mother and sister speculating that Dickens might be the best thing for her, since her acting isn’t that good--.)
Fiennes’ Dickens is mercurial and seems quite true to life. He is talented, energetic, egotistical, and charming. He is kindly to Ellen, and brutally harsh to Catherine, announcing their separation in a letter to the London Times that he had not even discussed with her.
Felicity Jones plays essentially two roles. In flashback, she is the young actress, entering into a passionate affair. In the framing story, she is the woman she has reinvented after Dickens’ death, Mrs. Wharton Robinson, the wife of a schoolmaster. As Mrs. Wharton Robinson, she is still haunted by Dickens, since it is believed that she knew Dickens “as a child,” and she is sought out by worshipers of the author’s memory. She is very good in both aspects.
The movie is low-keyed but deals with the subject matter well. All the actors are well cast, and depiction of the 1860’s and 70’s in hairstyle, costume, and setting appears flawless.
This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/249162.html. Please comment there using OpenID.