Glenn Close (Dangerous Liaisons, Fatal Attraction) shines in this role as a woman who transforms herself into a male house-servant in order to survive the harsh work environment of 19th century Dublin. Keeping her identity a closely guarded secret, Albert Nobbs works as a butler in a hotel, dreaming of a time when the money he makes will afford him his own business and someone to share his life with. Trouble comes in the form of an in−house painter−decorator (McTeer) who, due to a lack of servants’ quarters, is assigned to share Nobbs’ bed.
Close gives everything that the part allows, of that there can be little argument − but is it enough to make us care? Clearly something of a pet project, Close also serves as the film’s producer and takes a co−writing credit too. It’s a shame then, that she could not elevate other elements of the film to a similar standard, so as to support her central performance, instead of distracting from it. The conventional structure sign−posts several developments, leaving us counting the minutes while hoping to be surprised before events unfold, all too often, as predicted. What was an initially promising premise becomes so slavishly formulaic that there is little left to hold one’s attention, especially whenever Close is off−screen.
One of the more interesting traits of Albert Nobbs’ character is his lack of life experience. We learn later of a brutal encounter in his early life that has led to his ‘closing down’ all modes of intimacy. This means his understanding of relationships are oddly immature; he understands the security offered by marriage as a mutual agreement, but the required passion or spark of love are alien concepts. Sadly, that complexity is dulled by the film’s overbearing preference for neatness.
Despite the transgender subject matter, the approach to this period drama is so classical and the plot so plodding and didactic that it feels ill at ease in this era of post−postmodernist overhauls of the genre (think Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice or Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights). Albert Nobbs is not without an audience, but it’s far more likely to find it on primetime television than in selected
Albert Nobbs (7)
Dir: Rodrigo Garcia, UK/Ireland drama, 2012, 113 minutes; Glenn Close, John Banville, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Brendan Gleeson
Premieres August 9