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ALBERT NOBBS (director: Rodrigo Garcia; screenwriters: John Banville/Glenn Close/Gabriella Prekop/story by Istvan Szabo/from a novella by George Moore; cinematographer: Michael McDonough; editor: Steven Weisberg; music: Brian Byrne; cast: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Mia Wasikowska (Helen Dawes), Brendan Gleeson (Dr. Holloran), Janet McTeer (Hubert Page), Pauline Collins (Mrs. Baker), Aaron Johnson (Joe Macken), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Viscount), Bronagh Gallagher (Kathleen); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Glenn Close/Bonnie Curtis/Julie Lynn/Alan Moloney; Roadside Attractions; 2011-Ireland)

“A tough watch.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Colombian filmmaker Rodrigo Garcia (“Mother and Child”/”Passengers”/”Nine Lives”)directs thisdownbeat period drama. It’s an adaptation of the play about a nineteenth-century Irishwoman, Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close, also co-writer & co-producer), who survives the Victorian period by dressing herself as a man and works as a timid but efficient butler for the last few years at the upscale Morrison’s hotel in Dublin. The film itself is a tough watch, as it drags (no pun intended) throughout because of poor pacing and the director’s inability to mine the novel’s rich humor that never made it to film. But the acting is first-class by the ensemble. Glenn Close, in a demanding role, delivers an impeccably restrained performance as she inhabits her lonely misfit repressed character and makes us take pity on her subterfuge and the miserable life she lives. Close played the same role Off Broadway in 1982, and spent many years trying to bring the Irish writer George Moore’s original 1927 novella to the screen.

When the elderly fusspot hotel owner, Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins), insists Mr. Nobbs share his bed with the newly hired temp housepainter Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), the fumbling servant unwittingly lets him find out her secret and then is surprised to find Page is also a woman disguised as a man. Page says she left her abusive housepainter husband and married a woman milliner he dearly loves, Kathleen (Bronagh Gallagher), who was willing to go along with the deception. This gives forty-something Nobbs, who keeps her life-savings beneath a removable floorboard in her room, a chance to dream about marrying and opening up a respectable tobacco shop. The unworldly Nobbs woos feisty hotel maid Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska), who just began a relationship with the newly hired waster hotel handyman Joe Macken (Aaron Johnson). The wiseguy handyman encourages Helen to go out with the freak-like butler, and try to get him to give her gifts and perhaps extract money from him so they can go to America together.

The story wallows in misery and takes a long time getting to its tragic ending, which is something we knew from the beginning, anyway, was the fate awaiting for the fish out-of-water cross-dresser. It’s a story that perhaps sounds good as an idea, but it disappoints when filmed in such a dour way and it also disappoints because it was too claustrophobic to give us a greater understanding of Victorian society and its gender roles as perceived through our modern eyes.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”