OSCAR nominated actor Ralph Fiennes juggles responsibilities behind and in front of the camera, opening in 1885 Margate, where Nelly Robinson (Felicity Jones) is a school teacher with a doting husband (Tom Burke).
He is powerless to stop Nelly taking long walks on the beach, wrestling with the ghosts of her past.
The film rewinds to 1850s Manchester, where Nelly is an aspiring actress in a family of performers headed by her domineering mother, Mrs Frances Ternan (Kristin Scott Thomas).
Frances keeps a close eye on her daughters Maria (Perdita Weeks) and Fannie (Amanda Hale) and the least talented of the brood, 18-year-old Nelly. Mixing in the theatrical circles, Nelly encounters socially awkward writer Charles Dickens (Fiennes), who neglects his long-suffering wife, Catherine (Joanna Scanlan). Dickens’s fascination with Nelly develops into something far deeper but she is forced to lurk in the shadows for fear of tainting his reputation.