JAMES Joyce would admire the multitude of characters within Rodrigo Garcia’s feature, Albert Nobbs, Certificate 15. The inhabitants of The Morrison’s Hotel in Dublin would not be out of place within Joyce’s celebrated work, The Dubliners.
The feature is a labour of love for the film’s star, Glenn Close. It has taken the American actress three decades to bring George Moores novella to the big screen. She stars, produces and even co-wrote the feature’s screenplay. Close originally portrayed the complex character of Albert Nobbs in the off-Broadway production, The singular life of Albert Nobbs, in 1982.
Close leads an establishment of prestigious actors within the feature. Including Oscar nominated Janet McTeer, Mia Wasikowska, Pauline Collins and Brendan Gleeson. Rising star Aaron Johnston features alongside Northern Ireland’s, Bronagh Gallagher.
Close has previously worked with the film’s Columbian director before. The two collaborated together on the 1999 feature, Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her.
Set in Ireland in the early twentieth century the film’s plot focuses on the inhabitants of the Dublin hotel. Both staff and quests alike hold many secrets within the establishment’s four walls. Not least the quiet and unassuming manservant, Albert Nobbs, who holds a deeply guarded and personal secret.
Portrayed by Close on-screen, Albert’s tale is a tragic one. Born a woman, she was an abandoned child, the young girl did not even know her name, or her parents identify. Growing up in nineteenth century Dublin, with employment scarce the young woman decided to sacrifice her femininity and masquerade as a man to avoid the poor house.
The film’s events take place many years later. Albert has lived out her life for so long as a man, that she has almost lost her true identity. When fate throws her together with Janet McTeer’s character, Hubert Page,Albert’s secret is discovered. But the waiter finds a willing confidant within Hubert, who like Albert is also hiding a secret. The two form a close friendship, allowing Close’s character to emotionally open up to someone for the first time.
Albert is advised to find herself a wife, to further secure her secret. She is drawn to her beautiful co-worker, Helen, played by Mia Wasikowska. The beautiful young maid has already become smitten by the arrival of Aaron Johnston’s young and handsome, Joe. The scheming Irishman advises Helen to abuse Albert’s advances for their own financial gain. As the film reaches its climax the feature is filled with heartache and tragedy.
The film shot on location within Dublin, was remarkably filmed in 34 days. The cast put in strong performances throughout the feature and the period drama and surprisingly in such a sombre story the director finds considerable humour within the features narrative.
A truly bizarre moment in the feature is a scene in the film’s latter stages, when Close and McTeer’s character’s take to the streets in woman’s clothing. After years of disguising their true identities, the two women are awkward and uncomfortable wearing woman’s clothing. Having hidden their femininity for years the two seem more like the two drag queens from Little Britain than actual women.
Sadly though the film feels a little sluggish. At times its pacing is painfully slow and feels too drawn out. The feature is littered with several risqué moments, that feel out of place within the film’s overall narrative. At times they feel shoehorned by the director to titillate viewers.
In my opinion, Albert’s motivation for courting Helen, make her no less subversive than the woman’s other suitor, Joe. Yet, viewers are expected to show sympathy towards the central protagonists’ pursuit of the young maid.
A strong performance by all the principal cast within the period feature make the film a worthwhile watch. In particular Close’s fantastic central performance, unsurprisingly the actress was nominated for an Academy Award for her role. But some viewers might find the feature too slow and its downbeat ending may leave some unsatisfied.