“You don’t have to be anything but who you are”
Close’s sixth and most recent Academy Award nomination came with 2011’s Albert Nobbs, a project with which she has been closely connected since starring in an adaptation of George Moore’s novella in 1982. As a producer and co-writer with John Banville, it’s clearly a labour of love for Close and along with co-star Janet McTeer, there’s some powerfully accomplished acting going on here, directed by Rodrigo García, that was rightfully recognised, with nominations at least, in that award season.
It is, however, not the most vivacious piece of writing you’ll come across. Nobbs is a butler in a small Dublin hotel run by Pauline Collins’ Margaret Baker in the late 19th century, which caters to the various whims of a carousing upper class (Jonathan Rhys Meyer, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, John Light, Phyllida Law among the bisexual and bolshy). Reclusive but dedicated, Nobbs has been squirelling away wages and tips for years with the hope of purchasing his own business, there’s just the small matter of a little secret that is, of course, no secret to us.
A chance encounter with McTeer’s Hubert Page, painter and decorator at the hotel and also a cross-dressing woman – unlikely perhaps but a crucial comment on the difficulties for women to find gainful employment at the time – opens up Nobbs’ eyes and heart to the possibility of a life outside of work, leading to the film’s strongest moments. Page lives with her wife Cathleen, a marvellous Bronagh Gallagher, and their domestic bliss, along with the intimacy of sharing a similar story, inspires Nobbs to find a partner too, with rather drastic consequences though.
Hotel maid Helen is the (un)lucky recipient of said desire but Mia Wasikowska never quite intrigues enough as the young woman bemused by this would-be paramour, more interested in the genuinely manly charms of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s handyman. And as Nobbs has little real emotional connection to Helen, she’s just a means to an end in the end, the climax is less gripping than it ought to be, the stakes are never quite high enough to be truly affecting. Still worth a watch though, not least for McTeer’s impressive work.