Albert Nobbs"a much-honored 2011 social issue drama of 113 minutes is set in late 19th century Dublin, Ireland. It tells the tale of the little man who never was. "Albert Nobbs" is a waiter in a pricey hotel in late Victorian times. His customers see him as a kind, fussy little man, but he's not. He's a woman living as a man because the male waiters make much more money than the women maids, and can hope even to be able to save enough so as to retire to a little shop of some sort - Albert thinks a tobacconist for him. And waiters don't have to beat laundry in the cold and snow, as the maids must. The movie is based upon a novella by Irish author George Moore. Its title role is played by Glenn Close, an Oscar winner for The World According to Garp
, giving a "powerhouse performance" here according to the New York Post. Close recreates her 1982 stage role here; I understand it took her all the intervening decades to manage to get this work filmed. At any rate, she was also nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her work in this film.
Nobbs has spent decades working as a man, and is reaching the point where he thinks he can see the light at the end of the tunnel, though he is not sure how to strategize it. He's biding his time. Then two men arrive at the hotel at roughly the same time. Handsome strapping handyman Joe Machin, played by Aaron Johnson, Nowhere Boy
. And handsome swaggering housepainter Hubert Page, played by esteemed actress, Janet McTeer, (Tumbleweeds
), also passing as a man, and also Oscar nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her work here. Nobbs and the painter share their secrets, and Nobbs discovers that the latter is married to a lively, wage-earning seamstress. The waiter gets ideas: perhaps there might be a wife in his future too. Unfortunately, he turns his attention to the flighty hotel maid Helen Dawes, played by independent film darling Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland
, Jane Eyre
. But Helen is much taken by, and then pregnant by, Joe.Machin. However, Machin urges her to string Nobbs along, as there must be much-needed money somewhere in Nobbs' vicinity. Suddenly we see Nobbs' tender side. But he is jeopardizing himself, and we suspect things will not end well for him.
There's loads of highly prestigious international talent in front of and behind the camera in this outstanding indie production. The screenplay was written by Close, and Booker Award winning Irish author John Banville ( The Sea
). Direction is by Rodrigo Garcia, (MOTHER AND CHILD)who does specialize in female-centric scenarios. And, in front of the camera, my, oh my. So many Oscar nominees/winners, once very popular/popular now. That hunk Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors - Complete Season 1-4
) as Viscount Yarrell. Pauline Collins, long-ago flavor of the month for Upstairs Downstairs - The Complete Series
, Shirley Valentine
as Mrs. Margaret `Madge' Baker, owner of the hotel. Brenda Fricker, Oscar winner for My Left Foot
, as Polly, the cook. Brendan Gleeson (IN BRUGES) as Dr. Halloran. Phyllida Law (RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY) as Mrs. Cavendish. Maria Doyle Kennedy (DOWNTON ABBEY, THE TUDORS) as Mary, a maid. Bronagh Gallagher as Cathleen, Hugh's wife. Angeline Ball as Mrs. Gilligan. And the latter three women, folks, were the three girl backup singers in THE COMMITMENTS, here together again.
The production comes off as a little stagey; still, I thought it did an excellent job of giving us Dublin, as it might have appeared then, in its seasons, snow-bound winter, blooming spring, and reflective fall. We are never given any clue as to Nobbs' actual sexual orientation; he comes off as asexual, rather closed-off, and hard to warm to. I saw a production of this as a play in Trinity College, Dublin, in 1980, and believe the treatment I saw made more explicit the fact that Nobbs spent his/her entire adult life with her breasts bound, passing for a man, out of economic necessity. I do wish the film had underlined its economic underpinnings more. Still, it's there, between the lines in many scenes: a powerful and memorable message.