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Ellen Sterling sterling

Movies: Albert Nobbs

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hubert Page (Janet McTeer, left)
and Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) share a secret.
Photo: Patrick Redmond, Roadside Attractions

In a small, bustling Dublin hotel, we meet Albert Nobbs, a little man who is a waiter. He’s oddly prissy and each movement seems measured. When he’s in the street he reminds the person who observes him walking of Charlie Chaplin. One cannot, in fact, imagine Albert letting loose.

It’s certainly no secret that “Albert” is not a man. Albert is a woman who, for some reason, has decided to pass as a man.

Now, this is not an impossible thing to pull off. We’ve read about jazz musician Billy Tipton who, in an effort to succeed in the man’s world of jazz, ultimately lived his entire life as a man. It was only when he died in 1989 that the fact that he was born Dorothy Tipton and was a woman came to light.

In the hotel, Albert lives an isolated life, going about his business circumspectly and properly. When Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins), owner of the hotel, engages house painter Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) Albert may have found a kindred spirit.

Hubert lives a full life, with a wife. Albert’s curiosity is piqued and he asks the young housemaid Helen (Mia Wasikowska) to walk out with him.

Albert Nobbs is a long-time labor of love from Glenn Close. She produced, co-wrote the script with Gabriella Prekop and John Banville, and shepherded the project. She surrounded herself with first-rate character actors like Brendan Gleeson and Brenda Fricker.

Janet McTeer is stunning in her role and, like Close, has been nominated for an Academy Award. She is most deserving, as her performance is wildly memorable.

The film, like the title character, is quiet and careful, reflecting someone who wants only to inhabit a world ruled by decency and respect. I never forgot for a moment that I was watching a woman play a woman who pretends to be a man. But that’s all right. Albert Nobbs tells a human story in a very sympathetic way. It’s not the best of the year by a long shot, but it is certainly not run-of-the-mill film fare and, if for no other reason, it is worth seeing.

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