It may seem odd, when talking about a director only two films into his career, to describe "The Invisible Woman" as "a very Ralph Fiennes film." By his own admission, the twice Oscar-nominated actor has yet to forge a recurring directorial stamp; both his films exude the confident curiosity of an artist open to any number of ideas and influences.
Yet if the restrained elegancy and disciplined sexuality of "The Invisible Woman" -- a delicate, melancholic costume drama about Nelly Ternan, the historically sidelined mistress of Charles Dickens -- seems natural coming from Fiennes, that's largely because they match his refined, precise qualities as an actor. Those, too, are on display in the film: Fiennes plays Dickens to Felicity Jones's Ternan, and the two have a quiet but urgent chemistry that makes for one of the year's most unexpectedly moving screen romances. Though adapted by Emmy-winning screenwriter Abi Morgan ("The Hour," "The Iron Lady") from a 1991 biography by Claire Tomalin, the relationship at the film's center is still far from common knowledge; Fiennes's film illuminates it with considerable grace.