Albert Nobbs (2011)


Albert Nobbs (2011)I remember seeing Albert Nobbs (2011) being part of a cross-dressing top fifty of films a year or so ago, the image of Glenn Close made up to be a man was a striking image that is hard to shake off. Even the opening titles where we have our first glimpse of a heavily made-up actress to have a male face there was intact a woman below all of that prosthetic that we began to learn about in this interesting oddity of a film. Once you get past the transformation of Close you find a character who is conflicted by her/his choices in life. If only they were born a hundred years or so later this would never have happened. Albert Nobbs a waiter at a posh hotel is trapped in a position that allows him to lead an independent male life, whilst also trapped by the secret that he/she holds under the clothes.

This is not Boys Don’t Cry (1999) where the girl is more comfortable in her male guise. For Nobbs it’s a vehicles for independence and mobility in a male dominated world, one that will not think twice in firing someone at a customers hasty request, a harsh world indeed. I thought this was initially about a man who was played by a woman, which wasn’t part of the film. Obviously this does add another later to the film. We don’s find out about this mysterious waiter’s motivations beyond his stash of savings that will see him/her leave his job. A quiet and reserved man who we start to question when he/she is asked to share his/her bed with a visiting painter decorator Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) who we can tell is more comfortable in his skin. The first scene together opens up the story wide open, an intimate and vulnerable encounter that changes things for Nobbs and Page, an understanding a connection is made as they form a mutual trust and relationship the next day.

Page has been able to lead a double and happy life as a women acting as a male decorator, having a wife, a home to call their own, something that Nobbs has longed for. Wanting to know how they made it successfully in a male dominated Ireland of the 19th century. All Nobbs needs is a wife, someone to allow him to have a public image to go with his/her dream life of opening a tobacconist’s. The search begins, not having to look too far in the form of maid Helen (Mia Wasikowska) who as no real interest in the ageing waiter. Having to fight for her affections with new man in the hotel Joe (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) a more realistic fit, both around the same age. That’s not of Nobbs concern, seeing beyond the fallacy of youth to the future, stability and his/her happiness. We find the young couple have their own intentions as the film develops. Its like Upstairs, Downstairs focusing on the lives of a few of the downstairs team in greater detail

Albert Nobbs is one of those rare films where the lead actor really goes out of their comfort zone to bring an otherwise forgotten story to the screen. Not just looking at the social structure of society, also homosexuality that is loosely explored, not ridiculed as a disease at the time if you look at figures such as Oscar Wilde who were more open about their private lives. Nobbs is one of circumstances that allows progression, in the process forgetting who you truly are. Able if only briefly to rediscover that identity. Close took a game creatively and with her audience which to an extent pulls off, it rarely happens on-screen and usually for laughs. When gender identity and sexuality enter the equation you really have to get it right, which for the most part the film does, nothing is really played up. The secret is never revealed until the end, theres a shock then life carries. It’s a curious little film that works, making you wonder how many others suffered the same, trapped by circumstances, how many transvestites and homosexuals survived in a stiff-upper lip society?

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4 responses

  1. A very unemotional film. Even if the performances were quite good. Nice review Tim.

    January 4, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    • Yeah there were no stand out performances, a good supporting british/irish cast. I think the ideas were doing all the work.

      Cheers Dan

      January 4, 2015 at 7:55 pm

  2. I like Close. She’s a daring actress.
    Glad to see she’s still getting some work.

    January 5, 2015 at 10:04 am

    • I think it helps when they push their own boundaries creatively, you get results like this. strong actress.

      January 5, 2015 at 6:22 pm

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