Albert Nobbs is a cinematic gem that takes the viewer on a surprising ride. At first, I assumed it would be a standard costume drama with a little gender-bending twist. Instead, I discovered a compelling movie that explores the complexities of gender roles through the prism of 19th century Dublin, Ireland. The movie is filled with plot twists and turns that raise it far above the routine melodrama.
Glenn Close is convincing in the title role of Albert Nobbs, a woman who dresses as a man in order to find employment. Wearing a bowler hat and proper Edwardian suit, she takes on the persona of a prim straight-backed waiter who performs his duties with skill and grace. She is so believable in the leading role of Albert Nobbs that when she attempts to wear a dress in one scene, it appears as if we are seeing a man dressing up as a woman.
This film is a wonderful tale of the many characters that inhabit the small Dublin hotel where Mr. Hobbs works. Albert carefully navigates his way through the complex relationships in the hotel while showing proper deference to the hotel guests and the domineering hotel owner, Mrs. Baker, played by Pauline Collins.
Albert Nobbs is a story about someone who hides more than gender inside the clothes that he wears. He hides his dreams for the future and his inadequate ability to interact with his others. Albert’s well-planned routine is thrown off-tilt by the arrival in the hotel of two new workers played by Janet McTeer and Aaron Johnson. Both workers have secrets and dreams of their own that ultimately upend Mr. Nobbs quiet life. At the center of the story is Albert’s relationship with the naïve maid Helen, played by Mia Wasikowska.
Based on a short story by George Moore, Albert Nobbs was adapted for the screen by Glenn Close and John Banville. In 1982, Ms. Close won an Obie award for her portrayal of Mr. Nobbs in a 1982 off-broadway production called, The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs. The film has just been nominated for several Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards (Oscar) including a best actress award for Glenn Close and best supporting actress award for Janet McTeer.