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.
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.
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.
Despite a painfully early start to catch the Eurostar to London, she is elegant and chic with a dark bob, silky blouse and studded killer heels.
Perhaps it’s because of this cool beauty – and the upper crust roles she’s often played – that the actress has a reputation as something of an ice queen.
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.
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 The Amazing Spider-Man 2 star 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.
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’.
Scott Thomas admits that Dickens behaved “atrociously”, adding: “That’s the great thing about Ralph’s performance. You know he’s doing something not great, but you still empathise with him.”