A tale of love complicated -- if not thwarted -- by prior responsibilities, intractable barriers, and the rigid high-society norms that frustrate its Victorian characters' attempts to live as they so desperately want, The Invisible Woman finds Ralph Fiennes proving as adept behind the camera as he is in front of it. Fiennes's film, his second as director, examines the secret love affair between Charles Dickens (Fiennes) and young actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), with a script based on Claire Tomalin's nonfiction study of the affair. The story comes in flashbacks: Nelly remembering the bond she shared with the great author when she was just 18, a relationship that began after she and her sisters, guided by her protective mother (a captivating Kristin Scott Thomas), acted alongside Dickens in his playwright-friend Wilkie Collins's (Tom Hollander) production of The Frozen Deep. Trapped in a loveless marriage to Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), a loyal and resilient woman who glares at her husband with adoration and distrust, Charles sees in Nelly vibrant beauty and intelligence. Despite their incompatible positions and obligations, feeling soon blossoms between them, even as it becomes increasingly clear that acting upon it will result in misery for themselves and their loved ones. The Invisible Woman is poignantly attuned to its characters' sorrow -- born from thorny circumstances that have no suitable resolution. That's in large part thanks to Fiennes's artistry as a filmmaker. He employs a magnificent classical touch, repeatedly fixating on the image of the independent, adult Nelly walking furiously along a windswept beach. His direction is precise and passionate, as are the performances. Jones gives a star-making turn full of subtle sorrow and strength.