Title: Albert Nobbs
Director: Rodrigo Garcia (‘Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her,’ TV’s ‘In Treatment’)
Starring: Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson (‘Kick-Ass,’ ‘Nowhere Boy’) and Janet McTeer (‘Tumbleweeds’)
An actress remaining connected to a character she portrayed 30 years ago in a play that features a simplistic story is a rarity in Hollywood. But Glenn Close has done just that with her title role in her new film, ‘Albert Nobbs.’ Despite garnering mainstream attention in such films as ‘Fatal Attraction’ and ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ since she played Albert on stage, the Academy Award-nominated actress convincingly reentered the character’s mindset in the new drama. Viewers can also relate to the character’s inner struggles, as they deal with finding one’s identity and sense of purpose.
‘Albert Nobbs’s follows the life of the title character, a woman who has secretly been posing as a man in 19th century Britain for the past 30 years. She has been working as a male butler in the reputable Morrison’s Hotel in order to make a living, and avoid being the latest victim to succumb to Dublin’s severe poverty. Albert serves as a leader to the rest of the staff of the hotel, which is run by Mrs. Baker (portrayed by Pauline Collins). While respected by her co-workers, Albert craves a more intimate relationship with one of the maids, Helen Dawes (played by Mia Wasikowska).
While Helen respects Albert, she has no desire to start a serious relationship with the person she believes to be an older man looking for company. Helen falls in love with the Morrison Hotel’s handyman, Joe Macken (portrayed by Aaron Johnson), instead. Sensing Helen’s reluctance to settle down with her, Albert seeks comfort in the hotel’s painter, Hubert Page (played by Janet McTeer), who is also a woman pretending to be a man, in order to keep her job.
Close brilliantly connected with Albert on screen, as she won the 1982 Best Actress in a Play Obie Award for her portrayal of the character in ‘The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs.’ The actress, who also co-wrote and produced the film, campaigned to bring the play to the screen since she played the character on stage. In the movie, the actress proved that she understands Albert’s desire to stay off the poverty-stricken street, and would willingly lie to those closest to her in order to keep her job.
While ‘Albert Nobbs’ doesn’t explicitly explain Albert’s background, Close sympathized with, and matured, her character, who is an illegitimate child who never had a family. She began working as a waiter when she was a teen in order to take care of herself. As an adult, Close kept Albert in a world of loneliness as a way to survive and protect herself. She lived and worked in hotels for most of her life just keep her isolated and invisible from the dangers of the outside world. But as the film progresses, she strives to build close relationships, as she wants to find someone who truly loves her.
While society roles have changed since the 1800s, and ‘Albert Nobbs’ is a film that’s heavily set in its time period, Albert’s struggle to find her identity and purpose is ultimately an issue that many people can still relate to today. Albert is forced to emotionally separate herself from the rest of the world in order to keep her job. But she, like people today, want to find someone they can connect with. While bonding with Hubert over their shared secret, Albert finally gains the courage to work on her dream of leaving the hotel and opening her own tobacco business.
Much like Albert is a realistic portrayal of a woman struggling to keep her job and emotional distance, Helen is a convincing representation of women who go after her professional and personal ambitions and dreams. She wants a better life for herself than just working as a maid in hotel after hotel, which she has also done since she was a teenager; she’s determined to move up in society.
While Helen’s professional aspirations to stay off the street drive her to work up the hotel ladder, her desire to also have a family of her own leads her to pursue a romantic relationship with Joe. While Helen sees that Joe isn’t ready to start a family, she does whatever she can to please him. While she aims to better herself and her life, Helen possesses a humanizing vulnerability that people can still relate to today.
With Close’s perseverance to start production on the film, her intimate reconnection to Albert and several conflicts that still relate to contemporary society, ‘Albert Nobbs’ is as universally appealing as the play the actress appeared in in the 1980s. Albert’s life is deeply affective in showing what happens when people lose their identity, and become isolated and invisible from the world. The drama also showcases the lengths people go to in order to protect their jobs and financial security. While the film is set in the 1800s, viewers will undoubtedly understand the struggles Albert and Helen face and try to work through.