Ralph Fiennes and Felicity Jones in The Invisible Woman.

There was a time when The Invisible Woman—a movie that takes a speculative look at an affair Charles Dickens had toward the end of his life—would’ve had “Oscar” written all over it.

Ralph Fiennes directs himself as Dickens, and he presents the author as the John Lennon or Elvis Presley of his day. (Dickens was indeed a literary rock star, and one of the first to deal with print-media scrutiny and hordes of fans when he tried to take a walk or go to the theater.) The married Dickens also created quite a bit of controversy by having an affair with a young actress named Nelly (played here by Felicity Jones), whose full name was Ellen Ternan.

Jones, the stunning actress who broke through with an amazing performance in Like Crazy, is this film’s best asset. As Nelly—an aspiring actress with questionable talent who displayed big fan crush on Dickens—Jones brings a smoldering sophistication to her role, and goes toe-to-toe with Fiennes in many scenes.

Much of what happens in this movie is based on true events, including the 1865 Staplehurst rail car crash that many blamed for Dickens’ subsequent health woes and decrease in writing output.

This is the second directorial effort for Fiennes after 2011’s very good Coriolanus. He’s a director to be reckoned with; he has a crafty touch with sensitive subjects.

The Invisible Woman is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565), and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).