The Charles Dickens bicentenary continues to fling interesting projects at us, like Mr Smallweed hurling cushions at his wife. Along with BBC and BFI seasons and Mike Newell's Great Expectations, Ralph Fiennes is directing The Invisible Woman, in which he'll also play the author. Just set to join him is Tom Hollander, who'll be playing Dickens' friend and frequent collaborator Wilkie Collins.
Calling The Invisible Woman a "Dickens biopic" is useful shorthand, but it also ironically plays into exactly what the the book and the film are about: Dickens' secret mistress Ellen "Nelly" Ternan, and her airbrushing from his official history.
Ternan was a theatre actress (a year younger than Dickens' eldest daughter) with whom Dickens conducted an affair for the last thirteen years of his life. As a member of a less-than-respected profession, Nelly's social position was negligible, and Dickens went to inordinate lengths to keep the relationship out of the public eye. Exposure as Dickens' mistress would have brought the actress utter disgrace and ruin during his lifetime, but she did achieve some status after Dickens' death, despite their relationship having by then come to light.
Expect a colourful depiction of the world of the Victorian theatre, masking an excoriating view of nineteenth-century social mores. Felicity Jones is playing Nelly, with Joanna Scanlan as Dickens' long-suffering wife Catherine, and Kristin Scott Thomas as Nelly's mother Frances. Holland, as we said, is Wilkie Collins, most famous as the author of The Moonstone and The Woman In White, but also a prolific playwrite. He co-authored The Frozen Deep with Dickens, and it was on that fateful production that Dickens and Nelly first met.
The screenplay is by Shame's writer Abi Morgan, and it's based on Claire Tomalin's book, first published in 1991. Shooting starts in April.
The Invisible Woman is available in paperback from Penguin, and Tomalin's more recent Charles Dickens: A Life is currently still only in hardcover from Viking.