Review: Albert Nobbs

Last night at TIFF, Glenn Close’s passion project, Albert Nobbs debuted with a gala presentation at the Roy Thomson Hall.  Directed by Rodrigo Garcia, the film is about Albert Nobbs (Close), a woman that poses as a man to work as a butler in Dublin’s most posh hotel.  The film is an emotional story about the meagre lives of working class women that is brought to life by incredible performances from the actors.

Set in late 19th century Victorian Dublin, the audience is transported to a time where work is scarce, and everyone dreams of a better life.  For Albert, a better life includes opening a Tobacco shop.  When Albert meets a fetching painter, Mr. Page (Janet McTeer), Albert is tempted to break free of the lie she’s been living.  Albert seeks assistance from a young maid named Helen (Mia Wasikowska), in hopes of opening the shop and staging a “normal life”.  But Helen is entangled with a ruggedly handsome handyman, Joe (Aaron Johnson).

Albert Nobbs is based on a play, in which Close had the starring role in a 1982 stage production.  She was so passionate about the story, she attempted to bring the play to life on the big screen in 2000, but it fell apart.  At the premiere, Close said that this film had been 15 years in the making.  Close produced and co-wrote the film along with Booker-prize winner, John Banville.  The film’s screenplay is based on a short story, The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs by Irish novelist, George Moore.

Filmed on location in Dublin, the film illustrates the vast differences between the privileged and the poor.  While the upper crust dines in lavish parlours decorated with velvet drapes, the city is stricken with Typhoid fever and people struggle to hold onto their jobs to make a living.  Albert, however, overcomes Typhoid fever and along the way manages to dilligently save a small fortune to open the shop.  The female characters in this film are strong, even if their significance in society is small.  The only girl who is portrayed as naïve is Helen, but because of Albert’s persistance and good nature, Helen finally has the courage to value her future.

All Albert can dream of is a future with Helen.  What is seen on screen is a woman who is ahead of her time, yet a social pariah stuck in the past.  Close delivers a compelling performance, adding emotion and heart to the peculiar butler, while also portraying the awkwardness of a woman living the life of a man.  With peppery banter delivered perfectly from the cast, the film has lighter moments as well.  McTeer delivered a standout performance as Hubert Page, with moments that brough the audience to both tears and laughter.  The combination of the emotionally gripping story and spectacular performances make this a buzz-worthy film come Awards season.

Albert Nobbs is playing at the Toronto International Film Festival on Monday September 12 at 12:30 p.m. at the Winter Garden Theatre and on Saturday September 17 at 9:00 p.m. at the Ryerson Theatre.