Glenn Close is Albert Nobbs, a turn-of-the-century English waiter. And not in a tempestuous Shakespearean girl-plays-boy kind of way, for Nobbs this gender displacement is a matter of survival. If you’re an unmarried woman who doesn’t want to end up in the workhouse, there’s only one solution. Man up, wear a suit and get a job. Which is what Albert does. What’s more, he has plans that involve buying a tobacconist shop and, rather more optimistically, getting married. Intrigued? One of the great delights of Rodrigo Garcia’s mesmerising feature is the endlessly compelling questions it raises as the story unfolds.

An early contender for Best Actress Oscar (and possibly Best Picture), Close delivers a performance of a lifetime. More beast than beauty, she plays the buttoned-down Nobbs with such clarity that it’s easy to forget there’s an anxious woman inside his starched suit. Even when her cat is let out of the bag in a scene of alarming tenderness, Nobbs remains more man than woman. If not one of choice exactly, her behaviour has become a lifestyle. Albert’s carefully calculated life begins to unravel when he falls for a scheming kitchen maid (Mia Wasikowska). Her beau, a manipulative maintenance man, leverages the relationship and tragedy is not far behind.

Working from a thrilling script by Close and John Banville, Garcia explores a world on the brink of unimaginable social change. This is wonderfully reflected by the patrons of Nobb’s hotel, notably bright young things led by Jonathan Rhys Myers, whose buoyant social behaviour is in stark contrast to that of their tutting elders. It’s a delicious counterpoint to Nobbs own, extraordinarily modern, behaviour. The sad and painful difference is one of visibility. Yet there’s a glimmer of hope in an unexpected friendship that is struck between Albert and a jobbing painter (Janet McTeer).

Albert Nobbs is a remarkable story that is dignified by bold direction and a riveting central performance by Close. She perfectly captures his anguish and pain and, perhaps more significantly given the paucity of dialogue afforded Nobbs, creates a noteworthy character through the most subtle mannerism or imploring look. Less is more, perhaps a summation of Nobbs own behaviour. It’s complimented by elegant cinematography that effortlessly captures the mood of a restrictive period, and hopeful future. This is not a film for fans of high action or melodrama. It’s a small film for those who appreciate the rarefied drama of a quiet moment.

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Glenn Close
Janet McTeer
Mia Wasikowska
Jonathan Rhys Myers

Rodrigo Garcia

Glenn Close
John Banville

UK / Ireland

M / 113 minutes

December 26, 2011
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moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks