Saturday, 17 January 2015

Albert Nobbs (2011)

Firstly, I never knew Janet McTeer was so well endowed.

Now that I've got that off my chest *ahem* let's discuss the film itself...

The titular Albert Nobbs is played by Glenn Close (an Oscar-nominated turn and I'm sorry but she was robbed by Streep doing her best Jennifer Saunders as Maggie Thatcher that year) Yes that's a male character played by a woman, you read right. The conceit being that Nobbs is a woman who works as a butler and waiter in a 19th century Dublin hotel, dressing and passing as a man because a woman would not be hired for such a well paid role, and Dobbs needs the money. Based on the novella by Irish novelist George Moore the film poignantly depicts Nobbs' life as not really being worth the money she makes. But she has a dream; to open a tobacconist and, when she meets a fellow male impersonator (played by McTeer) who has married a woman complicit in the disguise, she realises her dream can incorporate personal happiness as well as financial security. As a result, Nobbs sets 'his' cap at Helen, a young maid at the hotel played by Mia Wasikowska, but unfortunately a sly ne'er do well played by Aaron Johnson is also vying for her affections.

This polished period film has a truly impressive cast including such familiar faces as Brendan Gleeson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Pauline Collins, Bronagh Gallagher, Mark Williams and the great Brenda Fricker, but this is Glenn Close's show. She had previously played Nobbs in an off-Broadway production in 1982 and spent the intervening years desperately trying to get the story onto the big screen. It pays off brilliantly and her brave performance is a tragic, deeply affecting gem which steals and breaks your heart. Embodying the naive and curious Nobbs, she invests such striking stiff body language that suggests the shy, reclusive, fastidious and strangely genderless aspects that the character possesses. As a viewer, seeing her imitate a man is jarring at first but slowly, both her performance and the script/narrative itself, totally absorbs you to such an extent that - when she briefly adopts the correct female attire later in the film - it throws you completely and gives you a moment which breaks your heart all over again.

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