Trailer Face-Off: The Invisible Woman vs. Belle
Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: The Invisible Woman vs. Belle, two love stories involving strong women that history chose to forget.
The Invisible Woman explores the relationship between Charles Dickens and his much-younger secret mistress, the fresh-faced and wide-eyed Nelly Terna. The trailer opens with Dickens (played by the film’s director Ralph Fiennes) at the height of his fame, reciting his latest installment to an audience of top hats and bonnets, including the young, rapt Nelly (Felicity Jones). We then discover, along with a delighted Dickens, that Nelly has read every chapter of David Copperfield twice. Cut to multiple shots of bare necks and shadowy moments of almost-touching by the fire. Augmenting the drama are Dickens’ stolid (and solid) wife Catherine, and Nelly’s concerned mother Catherine Ternan (Kristin Scott Thomas). Like The Invisible Woman, Belle is also a fictionalized account of a real-life woman, this time Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay. The daughter of Admiral John Lindsay (Matthew Goode) and a slave named Maria Belle, Dido is brought to a Georgian England by her father to be raised by her great-uncle Lord Mansfield, played by British acting veteran Tom Wilkinson. After a childhood spent attempting to navigate bigoted social hierarchies within her own family, Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) falls in love with a young, handsome lawyer named John Davinier (Sam Reid), whom Lord Mansfield believes is beneath his grand-niece. Of course, love wins the day, Dido makes a lot of impassioned political speeches, and the pair also manages to sway Lord Mansfield (also Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales) in his Supreme Court ruling on the Zong Massacre, which began the process of ending slavery in England. A complete package, no?
Fame, fortune, good intentions, and wit—Dickens had many good qualities as a suitor. He also, unfortunately, had a wife, 10 children, and a reputation to uphold. Indeed, in spite of Dickens’ affections and his obsequious promise regarding Nelly’s future, “If I may be of assistance, in any way,” Nelly was generally lost to history. John Davinier, on the other hand, comforts Dido about her unknown mother by telling her that she could at least be sure that her mother was beautiful. How sweet.
Belle is set in the late 18th century, and men’s hairstyles had certainly changed by the time the mid-19th century The Invisible Woman rolled around. We dig the more flowing tresses of the men in Belle and, wigs or not, we spotted some of the casually haphazard ponytails that are so in right now. The older men in The Invisible Woman rock triangular tufts of hair on both face and chin. It can be hot in a scholarly sort of way, but it’s a look that we really have to be in the mood for.
We couldn’t be happier about the May-December relationship between Ternan and Dickens, mostly because Nelly comes off as open and earnest. However, Dido has to confront more serious problems like racial prejudice. Solidarity wins.
Point of Origin
The inspiration for Belle came from a portrait of Dido and her white cousin Elizabeth Murray, previously attributed to Johann Zoffany. Though Elizabeth occupies the foreground and Dido the back, critics to proclaimed Dido more beautiful than Elizabeth Murray. We thought we knew our beloved Charles Dickens, but as it turns out, one of his most interesting stories drew attention from its historical omission.
We’re always in the mood for a strong leading woman in a story about dead white men, and Dido seems to deliver with her disruption of status quo—and in an excruciatingly tight corset, no less.
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