"A poignant and wonderfully acted piece..."
Nominated for three Academy Awards this year it seems somewhat odd that Albert Nobbs is being released post-ceremony when the Oscars buzz has died done. You would have thought that Rodrigo Garcia's period drama would have thrived in it's Oscar involvement yet nevertheless it's set for its British release two months later - although that doesn't take anything away from this poignant and wonderfully acted piece.
Set in 19th century Ireland, Glenn Close plays Albert Nobbs, a quite peculiar man working as a butler at a high-class hotel, desperately trying to save up to one day own his own tobacco store. Yet despite his dreams and aspirations, Nobbs has quite a hefty secret - he's actually a woman in disguise.
Living a desperate lie, Nobbs has managed to fool his employers and co-workers into believing his secret, until handyman Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) catches Albert off guard when the pair are sharing a room. However, despite Albert's fear in Hubert knowing, he soon becomes an ally, as Hubert too bears the very same secret - as it appears the only way to gain success in Dublin at such a time was by pretending to be a man.
By having someone to now confide in, a weight has been lifted off Albert's shoulders somewhat as he plucks up the courage to ask maid Helen (Mia Wasikowska) to be his wife as he hopes to prolong his concealed lifestyle and make it seem more believable. Yet Helen is already tied up in a relationship with the plumber Joe (Aaron Johnson) as things begin to get complicated.
Despite telling a highly interesting tale, Albert Nobbs certainly has quite boring elements to it and follows quite a slow, tedious pace throughout. Yet such blandness is counteracted by a host of terrific performances. Similar to J. Edgar and The Iron Lady in that regard, it's not the most brilliant film, but definitely works as a platform for good acting. With women pretending to be men it's always a film that has the potential to be memorably performed, and that is certainly the case.
Close is superb as Nobbs, playing such a multi-layered character with many issues and managing to get it spot on. She plays the role with a mixture of insanity and humility which makes Nobbs who he is. There is definitely something severely wrong with him and Close encapsulates that perfectly without overdoing it at all. The character is so tragic and simply watching Close portray him as we try to figure him out is the film's greatest, if quite upsetting, feature.
McTeer is also great as Hubert Page, but unlike Close, she doesn't seem as much like a man. Not necessarily her fault, but her make up is not as defined and she merely looks like a woman with short hair - whilst her voice isn't as strong and believable as Close's either. Despite seeming somewhat pedantic to criticise it, the lack of believability as far as her is character concerned certainly works against the picture as you struggle to comprehend how those around Hubert fell for her quite palpable lie. I suppose the audacity in pretending to be a man is what made people believe her, but give me five minutes alone in a room with her and I reckon I would have figured her out. Also, following McTeer's topless scene, you have to wonder how she hid those things, because very few men can boast a figure that looks like that.
However, it's a fascinating tale and one which is highly thought provoking as you attempt to figure Albert out. It's slow pace and lack of action so to speak does make for some quite dreary scenes, but overall Garcia has produced a brilliantly acted and very stylistic tale and had it come out around the time of the Oscar's, it may have been given much more of the recognition it so deserves.