Niagara Gazette — Despite their 27-year age difference, Dickens begins a 13-year relationship with Ternan that would last until his death in 1870.
Divorce in Victorian Britain among the elite was unacceptable. Public disclosure of the relationship would have been ruinous. Unsurprising to say the least, but regarding the affair, Mrs. Dickens is not amused. Charles, already bored with his wife (“She comprehends nothing,” he says), considers her demanding and inflexible. Having ten children with a man will do that to a woman.
To her credit, Catherine tells her husband to take their marriage and shove it. She leaves with one of their children and drops off the other nine at her sister Georgina’s house. Orphans in a relationship storm, indeed.
“The Invisible Woman” begins with Ternan married and teaching. It then flows in flashback as she relates the story of her time with Dickens. Memories of the man surround her, and she has the desire to share her past. We learn that initially, she felt more interested in Dickens the writer than in Dickens the man. His stories attracted her. Soon she would care deeply about him. We also learn that her mother Frances, played deliciously by Kristin Scott Thomas, while certainly wary, is intrigued that a famous man such as Dickens is attracted to her daughter. Of course, Frances is thinking marriage and money, not thirteen years hidden away in a house in a heath somewhere.
Fiennes is good as Dickens, but Jones doesn’t quite deliver as Ternan. Her performance is a bit dull. This isn’t helped by the fact that Abi Morgan’s screenplay doesn’t give Nelly much characterization. She’s more porcelain doll than living and breathing woman. Ternan doesn’t have much to do except have a great man stare at her and tell her how wonderful she is as they stroll about the countryside or relax in over-stuffed, amber-lit rooms.