Charles Dickens: novelist, philanthropist, player.
Ralph Fiennes (United Kingdom, Special Presentation)
Monday, September 9, 6 p.m.
Visa Screening Room, Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge Street)
Tuesday, September 10, 11:45 a.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 (350 King Street West)
Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in this well-crafted but lightweight portrait of the secret relationship between Charles Dickens and actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones). After the dicey postmodern experimentation of his stab at Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Fiennes is smart to play his second feature as a straightforward, tasteful costume drama about courteous people who keep their passions close to their chests in a repressive environment.
Though the script by Abi Morgan tries, a bit heavy-handedly, to shed light on the social mores that relegated Ternan to ruined-woman status while the then-separated Dickens was still thriving in London’s literary circles, Fiennes seems more interested in capturing the finer points of Victorian stagecraft and cultural traditions than in creating nuanced characters through either of his leads—and he treats Dickens’s novels as though they were divine pearls dropped from the heavens. Despite the title and Jones’s fine performance, then, not much is done to develop Ternan’s experience as a performer forced to live a secret life while her lover remained a public figure in Victorian London.