Going in, I knew the Glenn Close played a man in Ireland in the 1800s to eek out a living when jobs for women were scarce. As it rolled, I stared at Glenn Close, assessing whether or not I’d be able to decipher that her character was a woman had I not known her already. Soon though, I got lost in the story and forgot about Close.
(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)
Albert Nobbs (Close) is a quiet professional working as a waiter in a Dublin hotel. One day, a housepainter, Hubert Page (Janet McTeer)comes round to do work at the hotel. Mr. Page is forced to bunk with Mr. Nobbs for the night; Nobbs isn’t happy about this arrangement. He’s really a lady who has lived as a man for the past 30 years. Due to an errant flea in a corset, Mr. Page finds out. Mr. Nobbs has a meltdown, scared that Mr. Page will reveal his secret. Nobbs is close to meeting his dreams of opening a tobacco shop, gaining a bride and running the shop together.
Mr. Page goes on to reveal his own secrets. Suddenly, Mr. Nobbs has an ally, someone with whom to share his reality and dreams. Mr. Page and his wife encourage Mr. Nobbs to go for it. He fancies Helen (Mia Wasikowska), a maid at the hotel, but young Helen has fallen for a new hotel employee, bad seed Joe Mackins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson)—an alcoholic who encourages Helen to lead on Mr. Nobbs in hopes that Nobbs will give Helen money which they can use to flee to America. Helen turns up pregnant. A devastating ending follows.
Based on "The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs," a short story by Irish novelist George Moore. Close played the role on Broadway in the 1980s and worked since then to get the movie made.
This is the first period piece I’ve seen about transvestites (or were they lesbians?). That point is never overtly stated. I wondered how Mr. Page figured out his arrangement with his wife. How would Nobbs plan to do that with Helen?
McTeer needed more screen time. With Mr. Page’s gait and confidence next to introverted Nobbs, the acting is strong. It’s hard to believe that Mr. Nobbs is played by the same actress who boiled the bunny in Fatal Attraction—that’s range! Brendan Gleeson is hardly recognizable as the hotel doctor; Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays himself as a hard-drinking hotel guest.
Director: Rodrigo García
Run time: 113 minutes