Deep significant looks, heaving bosoms, and silent tortured expressions seemed to characterise this film. There was a lot of walking with determined strides across gloomy sand dunes and the lawns at Gads Hill. There were the dark claustrophobic Victorian rooms crowded with people admiring the great writer, heavy and airless with fawning and grovelling.
I have mixed feelings about this film: on the one hand I enjoyed the Dickens references to Great Expectations and flashes of the writer’s life which I already knew about, but on the other I found what was omitted from the story rather annoying. Ralph Fiennes valiantly tried to depict Dickens as a romantic but flawed genius but we know that he (Dickens, not Fiennes!) was relentlessly cruel to his wife and children, and that his dalliance with Nellie (Ellen Ternan) came at a great price for his family, however much he and his adoring friends and public endeavoured to cover up his affair and uphold the fantasy that he was the archetypal upstanding paragon of Victorian values.
Granted it was focusing on Nellie’s story, the teenage actress who captured the attention of the great writer who was many years her senior, but the reality of it all is that his vanity fed on the destruction of those around him and this did not really come through the film.
Other odd gaps were for example when at one moment Nellie was furiously claiming that she would not be his mistress and horrified that he should suggest such immorality (“how could he offend her virtue so?”) and the next she was living with him, trotting off with him to France, and bearing his child. The only thing in the film that seemed to prompt this was Dickens’s suggestion that their relationship was akin to Pip and Estelle!
Another big gap in the film was the leap from Dickens setting Nellie up in her own house and Nellie being married to a headmaster and with a child. And another disparity: in Victorian times jobbing actresses were regarded as little more than “women of the night” while in the film we are led to believe that Nellie and her family are poor but respectable.
I do think that perhaps the film suffered from the cutting room …?