A New Film About Charles Dickens' Mistress... and a New Novel, Polaris !


A new film, THE INVISIBLE WOMAN, opened this week; it is the fascinating story about British author Charles Dickens and his clandestine mistress of twenty years, Nellie Ternan. Directed by and starring the fine actor Ralph Fiennes, the beautiful 31-year old Felicity Jones plays the 18-year old actress who meets Charles and becomes involved with him for the rest of his life,13 years in all. The remarkable Kristin Scott Thomas plays her widowed actress mother who tacitly approves of the relationship, while Abi Morgan adapted the screenplay from Claire Tomalin's biography. Sophisticated, adult, winsome and intriguing, the film reflects the brilliance and antic energy of the mature Dickens and the charm of the at-first reluctant Nellie. The language is beautiful in its color, doing justice to the vivid imagination which always gripped Charles. There was a recent hour on Charlie Rose TV when a trio of actors and educators who knew the Dickens story intimately told stories about him, much of which was new to me who arrogantly thought he knew much about the Dickens life. (He came to lecture in America and hated much of his experience here, railing against slavery, child labor, and lack of copyright protection.) The film focuses on the romantic intensity of the mature man and the bleak, troubled interior of his life. Married young to a woman he didn't love, with ten children, he is outwardly effervescent and inwardly tortured until Nellie enters his life, but that relationship also has it ups-and-downs. (27 years older than her, a harrowing stillborn birth strains the relationship for awhile.) There is an interesting 'bookends' story of her life after Charles died, when she married a younger schoolteacher who had no idea of her past.

The two stars at the premiere..Felicity Jones and Ralph Fiennes. Photo from Sony Classics

Ralph Fiennes directed and played Charles Dickens. Photo from Sony Classics

31-year old Fellcity Jones plays the mistress, from 18 to 41. Photo from Sony Classics

I have been addicted to the novels of Charles Dickens since I was a kid, so I had a particular interest in this film. When I was young and growing up in the small town of Beacon, New York, I was given a youngster's library card...and only received the adult version when I could prove to the librarian that I had read every book in the kid's section.....including many of Dickens' novels. I can honestly say that it was being exposed to Dickens which influenced me to becoming a writer in later life. I still remember the thrill of opening David Copperfield and Great Expectations and knowing I would be exposed to a world way beyond my ken. So I suggest that if you have a youngster or know of anyone who has not yet read these, guide them to the novels and open up a new world which will change their life for the better. I can still vividly picture the spector of the convict Magwitch (played by Finley Currie) rising out of the swamp to confront the young Pip in David Lean's 1946 film of Great Expectations. And when I produced a biographical film about W.C. Fields (with Rod Steiger), I screened the scene of Fields as Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield. So many memories in my head of scenes from the books and the films....Sydney Carton in the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Still true today.

The Cover of POLARIS: 10 SHORT STORIES photo by Jay Weston

I have made a two-fold New Year's Resolution. One is to reread many of the lesser-known Dickens novels, Martin Chuzzelwit, Nicolas Nickleby and Little Dorrit and the like. The second resolution is to expose to the world a new novel which I have just read. At Thanksgiving dinner a close friend handed me an advance copy of a novel by a mutual friend of ours, a writer/director named David Portlock who has had some success with smaller films at Sundance. My friend said, "This novel is so extraordinary that I know you will want to read it." I am not a big fan of science fiction stories, much preferring to read biographies and non-fiction books. So it languished until Christmas eve, when I began reading David Portlock's POLARIS: 10 SHORT STORIES. I read almost all night and then finished it on Christmas Day. Astonished by its sheer brilliance, gripping stories, I went back to it this week to again capture its magic. The book is being published on Amazon this week ($9.95), so it is now available to anyone with a click of the computer key, and I can only suggest that you do yourself a favor and get a copy. (I just ordered six to give to friends.) Methinks here, in a way, is my modern-day Dickens.

David has written 10 short stories which turn out to have a common thread, starting with an eight-year old boy in Kansas during the Great Depression of the '30s who has a vision during a dust storm. We move on to an inventor who builds a troubled robot assistant. Then we meet a female scientist who experiments with a flying force bubble. The sci fi elements arrives in full force with the next chapter, when a government agent caotures a lost alien king. We then meet a 16-year old girl who is kidnapped and turned into a ruthless killing machine, then making her way back home. A soldier volunteers for a suicide mission on a distant planet. An astronaut lost in space for 40 years finally returns to Earth. A woman and a soldier interact in the midst of an interdimensional alien invasion. A man, starving and freezing in the Alaskan outback, stumbles upon an abandoned research lab. Ending with a drug-addled psychiatrist who is introduced to a strange young woman. Unpredictable, beautifully written, just fine. I know, it is science fiction and you are too busy to take the time to read it, but trust me....it is so well written and fascinating that you will be caught up as I was and want to continue reading until it ends. I felt the same thrill of discovery that I did when as a young boy I read my first Charles Dickens novels. And, as I said, they changed my life. Perhaps this novel will change yours. For the better.

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