Albert Nobbs

Albert Nobbs

2012, R, 113 min. Directed by Rodrigo García. Starring Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Brendan Gleeson, Janet McTeer, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Pauline Collins.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 27, 2012

There's a priceless moment in this odd film wherein a bearded, bearish Brendan Gleeson, playing an alcoholic physician, turns to his hotel's servant, the titular Nobbs, and utters the classic male complaint: "Women." The brief scene is a hoot because, unbeknownst to Dr. Holloran, the singular Mr. Nobbs is in reality Miss Nobbs, splendidly played with frantic reserve and permanently repressed panic by a remarkable Glenn Close. Would that the rest of the film were as droll as that single utterance. It isn't, and Albert Nobbs is the furthest thing from a comedy, although as a character study of cultural mores and stations and the lengths human beings will go to to circumvent them, it's fascinating stuff.

Co-scripted by Close, novelist John Banville, and Gabriella Prekop from a short story by George Moore, this highly closeted (in every way) film is set in Dublin, Ireland, in the late 19th century. Mr. Nobbs' situation is explained in terms that will be familiar to fans of Dustin Hoffman's underemployed, cross-dressing actor in Tootsie: Work is scarce, and work that pays a living wage even scarcer. Thus Nobbs the feminine becomes Nobbs the masculine: tight-lipped, wide-eyed, almost mannequinesque in the intensity of her/his charade. After having suffered through a miserable childhood and eventually having secured suitable employment in a Dublin hotel, Nobbs' daily routine is one of ongoing self-obliteration. Courting – if that's the word for it – Mia Wasikowska's servant girl Helen, Nobbs' story becomes downright tragic.

That overarching sense of sadness and extremely intimate – indeed, interior – loss is only underscored by the arrival of a painter, Hubert Page (McTeer), a jovial personage who is also, like Nobbs, a woman masquerading as a man. That Hubert should have what appears to be a far more enjoyable inner life is discomfiting to the fragile Nobbs' psyche, since Nobbs, whether upstairs or downstairs, is never truly comfortable in his/her own skin. Close's vanishing act is so deep as to be cellular, and the role is certainly a memorable one, even if Nobbs the character is less so. What the film may say to you about issues of gender, class, and identity depends entirely on what you bring to it. In the end, everything's a tragedy.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Albert Nobbs
From the Vaults: Albert and Orlando
From the Vaults: Albert and Orlando
Women wear the pants in "Albert Nobbs" and "Orlando"

Marjorie Baumgarten, Jan. 30, 2012

More Rodrigo García Films
Four Good Days
Bland rehab drama is more wasted than its characters

Josh Kupecki, April 30, 2021

Last Days in the Desert
Ewan McGregor plays both Jesus and the devil in this secular imagining

Marjorie Baumgarten, May 20, 2016

More by Marc Savlov
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince

Aug. 7, 2022

Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone
Texas-made luchadores-meets-wire fu playful adventure

April 29, 2022


Albert Nobbs, Rodrigo García, Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Brendan Gleeson, Janet McTeer, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Pauline Collins

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle