Charles Dickens, exposed! Coming soon in 'The Invisible Woman'

In the Victorian era, not many people people knew that their beloved superstar author Charles Dickens had a long affair with a young actress, Nelly Ternan. But in the 20th century, the relationship was detailed in a number of biographies -- including 1991's "The Invisible Woman."

Which is now a movie -- coming to an art theater near you this holiday season, thanks to director and star Ralph Fiennes.


Fiennes plays Dickens, and as you can see in the trailer above, he captures some of the author's magnetism and massive popularity. (You can also see that there are cool costumes! And Victorian England looks really Victorian! If you like those kind of things.)

At the time Dickens began his affair with Ternan, he was one of the most popular figures in England, 47, married, with nine living children. A sense of moral authority came through in his writing and his actions: He defended the poor and valued home and family.

Nelly, who was about 18 when the affair began, is played by Felicity Jones; Kristin Scott Thomas plays her mother Frances. Fiennes must be going for a bit of a creepy factor in the casting: He and Thomas co-starred as lovers in "The English Patient," and now she's the mother of his young screen lover.

The book by Claire Tomalin that serves as the basis for  the film was reviewed for The Times by Carolyn See, who found it "melancholy." Nelly's "life went from an arduous gypsy childhood to domestic dullness as she waited around in her lonely house for the great man to show up," See writes.

The affair lasted 13 years, during which Dickens continued to write his bestselling serials, including "Our Mutual Friend," the unfinished "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," and "Great Expectations" -- Nelly is thought by some to be the inspiration for Estella.

Reviewing the book, See wrote: "The whole point of secrets is that people want them kept. The 'truth' is always there, in gossip, rumor, stories, letters, the one lost diary that survives out of mountains of destroyed documents. There came a day after his mother's death, when Jeoffrey, grown up, went to visit one of Charles Dickens' sons and asked him if Nelly, his own mother, had been the great man's mistress. Evidently, the son said, 'Sure!' Jeoffrey went home and burned his mother's mementos--everything."

And now one version of the secrets that were kept has been imagined as a film, coming to theaters on Christmas Day.


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