Long cherished dream projects often have a tendency to disappoint when they finally come to fruition. Happily for Glenn Close, that isn't the case with Albert Nobbs. Based on the novella by Irish writer George Moore, this is the moving story of a Dublin woman who assumes the identity of a man in order to improve her chances of progressing through the ranks of late 19th century society.
As is well known by now, Glenn Close first played the role in an off Broadway production in 1982. It was a turning point in the actress' career (critical and audience kudos followed) and she resolved one day to bring the story to the big screen. Despite becoming an award-winning A-list actress, it took three decades for Close to make that dream a reality; and even then it needed the actress herself to don a producer's hat; share co-writing (with John Banville) duties, and even find time to pen the lyrics of the movie's award-winning song, Lay Your Head Down.
Albert Nobbs opens in Ireland this week having already been nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Actress (Close), Best Supporting Actress (McTeer) and Best Achievement in Make-up (hats off to our gal, Lynn Johnson). No gongs ensued and Close herself was pipped (not for the first time) by Meryl Streep, but you get the feeling that gongs are a secondary thought for Glenn Close when it comes to this particular project.
Shot almost entirely in Dublin during one of those recent harsh winters, Albert Nobbs opens with our hero satisfied with his lot as the respected butler of a Dublin city centre hotel. He can put up with all of the tensions generated by larger-than-life owner Pauline Collins since he has quietly squirreled away enough money to guarantee his future as the owner of a little tobacconist's shop. Albert's carefully ordered lifestyle is thrown out of kilter, however, by the arrival of gruff painter, Hubert (McTeer), who, it transpires, has a secret to match that of Albert.
Whereas the petite and well-known Glenn Close requires makeup and a certain suspension of audience belief to carry the day; Janet McTeer is suitably well-built and sufficiently less well known to startle in her role. The relationship between the two is well observed, particularly in a key sequence when the two women decide to let loose, leave the breeches behind and don their natural dresses for a walk along a Dublin strand.
In addition to the two leads, there are strong performances on show from Mia Wasikowska (good Dublin accent!) as a mild-mannered maid who catches the eye of Albert, even while she herself is besotted by the younger, hunkier handyman, Aaron Johnson (not so good Dublin accent). Elsewhere there are many Irish actors on show, including Brendan Gleeson (excellent, as usual), IFTA nominee Brenda Fricker, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Michael McElhatton and gal-of-the-moment, Antonia Campbell Hughes.
Albert Nobbs is a moving drama featuring strong performances and an entertaining recreation of a bygone age. Hats off, Glenn.