Dublin in the late 19th century, where an aging waiter called Albert Nobbs attends to the every needs of the guests at the Morrison Hotel. But Albert has a secret, one which – if it gets out – could spoil his plans for the future.
Albert Nobbs is actually a woman.
This is not a spoiler in the slightest, unless you have the misfortune to be born without eyes. In which case you’re probably not an avid cinema goer. Or reading this review. But the fact is that it’s clear from the very first moments that the character of Albert Nobbs is being played by a person of the female gender, and that’s even if you’ve managed to miss the fact that the lead role is played by Glenn Close
. It’s in the opening credits.
In fact, Close
and cross dressing co-star Janet McTeer
rarely, if ever, manage to look like actual men throughout this odd period concoction – they look instead like rather unattractive women and whatever they are trying to do with their voices is equally unconvincing.
So, the central conceit of Albert Nobbs
is a pretty poor one and in truth the film doesn’t spend much time trying to fool the audience into believing in these false identities. What exactly the agenda of the piece is, I’m still not sure.
Ostensibly, Albert Nobbs
is a drama about a poor woman forced to don a man’s garb to survive in 19th century society, and who works tirelessly to inch closer to her dream of opening a shop of her very own. It’s a fine, if slight, premise but the film itself doesn’t confront the social standing of women to any degree and derives little impetus from the possibility of Nobbs losing her savings – despite toying with the idea for many minutes.
Instead, we’re treated to a dull series of events in the lives of the inhabitants of the hotel and more focus than I’d like on a clearly ill-advised young romance. The interest levels spike whenever McTeer
begin to talk about their alternative life choices and while the former’s story is engaging, Albert’s origin story is barely given a moment on screen, the details far from clear.Close
certainly makes some interesting choices as Nobbs – moulded into semi-androgyny by layers of admittedly decent makeup. It’s a strange character with garbled speech patterns and a tendency to stand stock still, staring into space. I have no doubt there’s acting going on but the lack of context to the character, and a serious lack of anything resembling a personality, makes her difficult to like. McTeer
fares better with a more lively role and Brendan Gleeson
has a very fine beard but the rest of the cast are forgettable or simply appalling.
The accents are some of the worst I’ve heard in years, partly due to the inexplicable casting mostly outside of Ireland. Dependable Mia Wasikowska
is a bore, and her lover Aaron Johnson
conjures up the worst lilt since b, while also capturing none of the supposed menace of his character. But it’s not only foreign performers who disappoint, local lady Brenda Fricker
seems to forget her lines every time she’s on screen and Jonathan Rhys Meyers
isn’t much better.
It has taken Glenn Close
a full 30 years to bring Albert Nobbs to the big screen, since she played the lead in a 1982 off Broadway play. And the result is a unfortunately a very dull drama cursed with some terrible performances, merely average production values and a depressing ending which neuters any positive message the story might have had. You have to wonder, was it really worth the effort?