Review: Albert Nobbs
In my never-ending search for the perfect lesbian film I have been both horribly disappointed and pleasantly surprised by two films lately. I expected The Kids Are All Right to not suck and I was terribly wrong. But, the other, the film that made up for the failure of The Kids Are All Right was Albert Nobbs.
WARNING: Here be spoilers!
Simply put, Albert Nobbs, with the eponymous character played by Glenn Close, is a film that tells the story of woman who is posing as a male butler in 19th century Ireland. But there is much more to the story than this.
For 30 years, since the age of 14, Albert Nobbs has presented himself as a boy and a man to the world. After an event that scarred him for life he decided it was much easier to survive as a man than live as a woman. Nobbs has been a man for the majority of his life and he’s so used to acting and dressing like a man that it feels more natural to identify him as one in the film.
When Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), a painter, shows up to paint Morrison’s hotel where Albert works, Page is told to share a room with Mr. Nobbs for the night. Naturally Nobbs panics at the possibility that Hubert will discover ‘he’ is really a ‘she’. When a stray tic itches Albert that night and in the midst of ripping off his clothes to get rid of the flea, Hubert wakes up to discover his secret. Of course, Hubert has a secret of his own.
The bond between Hubert and Albert is clear from the start and when Albert discovers Hubert leads a similar life to himself, he strives to find out more about this new and intriguing friend.
The uncovered fact that Hubert is married to a woman named Cathleen (Bronagh Gallagher) that knows he is really a woman, gives Albert hope and inspiration to make Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska) his own ‘Cathleen’ who will help him run a tobacco shop he plans to set up with the tips he has been saving.
Glenn Close is superb as Albert Nobbs and it’s her second time portraying the character. Unlike films that star big names like George Clooney and Brad Pitt – where no matter who they play you can never quite forget that “Hey, it’s Brad Pitt in a wig with a bad accent” – this is not the case with Glenn Close. You completely disregard her fame and iconic status and become immersed in the story of Albert Nobbs.
Although Close is undeniably brilliant, Janet McTeer gives a stellar performance. She’s confident as a man and there’s not a trace of the feminine about her. Even the female staff of Morrison’s find her attractive as Hubert Page.
And they’re right: her performance is attractive, charming and warm. You can see and feel the love she has for her wife Cathleen and when she says that Cathleen is her world and the love of her life, you know she means it. Having run away from an abusive husband and taking his painting gear and coat with her, she found a woman that completely accepts her for who she is.
Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson portray a relationship full of turmoil and it’s clear that Joe Macken (Aaron Johnson) is slowly turning in to his abusive, drunken father with grand promises of moving to America that will never come to fruition. Johnson’s Dublin accent is spot on 99% of the time but Wasikowska’s could have been better.
Brendan Gleeson plays a small part as Doctor Holloran in Albert Nobbs but his character is savvy to the lies that are rampant within Morrison’s Hotel and towards the end he quits the place in search of a more truthful existence. Even the presence of Gleeson brings this film to another level.
Albert Nobbs is not a film about lesbians. It’s a film about what women have had to do to survive at the worst of times, and the strength and courage they can lend to each other, knowing they’re not alone. It’s also a film about struggling to accept ourselves and about how heavy the burden of carrying a lie can be. Ultimately, however, the film is about a quiet man called Albert Nobbs who made subtle but necessary differences to the lives of everyone he touched.
- Release date: 27th January next