Kristin Scott Thomas teams up with old pal Ralph Fiennes in The Invisible Woman, which tells the story of Charles Dickens’ affair with a young actress. Here she talks about the movie to Jeananne Craig.
When Ralph Fiennes signed up to direct and star in The Invisible Woman, he contacted old friend Kristin Scott Thomas.
The pair previously played passionate lovers in the 1996 Oscar-winning film The English Patient and shared screen time in the lesser known 2005 drama Chromophobia. And after watching Fiennes’ 2011 directorial debut, Coriolanus, Scott Thomas had told him to give her a call if he got behind the camera again.
This time, however, she wasn’t enlisted to play the love interest to Fiennes’ Charles Dickens. The actor-director, who at 51 is two years younger than Scott Thomas, wanted her to play Frances, the mother of the author’s young mistress, Nelly.
When asked why Fiennes always had her in mind for the character, Scott Thomas confesses: “I didn’t know that. That’s a bit upsetting. Maybe because she’s a sort of ageing actress on the way out!”
The Paris-based mother-of-three may be an ageing star, but there’s no sign that she’s on the way out, and she’s still remarkably beautiful.
She appears to have forgiven Fiennes for his casting choice, describing him as ‘incredibly brave’ for taking on both director and leading man duties.
“It was wonderful working with Ralph again. Even though he was a terrible bully,” she deadpans. “He used to tell me to stop acting all the time.”
Did he want her to seem more natural? “I don’t know what he wanted. One day when I did stop acting he said, ‘You look as if you want to go home’, and I said, ‘Yes, well you told me to stop acting’,” she recalls, laughing.
Fiennes, for his part, is full of praise for Scott Thomas. “When I offered her the mother’s part, she was a little bit, ‘Hmm, I’m not sure about that’,” he says. “But she gives a brilliant performance in a really key role, because the way that Mrs Ternan negotiates and acquiesces in Nelly’s coming together with Dickens is very important.”
Based on Claire Tomalin’s biography of the same name, The Invisible Woman sees the married author falling for 18-year-old Nelly (played by Felicity Jones), as she tours the country with her mother and sisters, chasing theatre work.
Mrs Ternan is highly protective of her brood, and her daughter’s reputation. But Dickens can offer Nelly the financial security that life on the 19th century stage couldn’t.
Scott Thomas, who has two sons and a daughter from her former marriage to French gynaecologist Francois Olivennes, could relate to Mrs Ternan’s bind.
“You do what’s best for your child, even if in her case the decision of what to do must have been really, really hard.
“[Acting] was a very, very hard life and I think that comes across well in the film,” she adds.
“If you’re not a success, there’s nothing really else to do. When she sees that her daughter doesn’t really have any talent for the stage, she has to find another way out.”
Dickens is trapped in a loveless marriage, and as the film progresses we see him embark on a passionate affair with the intelligent, self-possessed Nelly.
As rumours of their romance spread among Victorian society, the revered author is determined to keep it a secret, and Nelly is destined to remain his ‘invisible woman’.