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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Albert Nobbs

Powerful And Enchanting

Albert Nobbs is a powerful and enchanting film about secret lives lived beneath the surfaces of everyday existence.

In 19th-century Ireland, painfully shy hotel butler Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) hides a dangerous secret: He is really a she. Terrified that someone will discover her identity, Albert keeps a very low profile, until the arrival of Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) registers a sea change in Albert’s life. Hubert shares the same secret as Albert and has managed to find a partner who helps her maintain her masquerade. Hoping to find a similar arrangement, Albert begins courting co-worker Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska).

Glenn Close’s powerhouse performance is just more evidence that she’s one of the greats. She transforms herself into Albert Nobbs, with Oscar-nominated makeup, and the sublime talent that’s always dropped her in an ocean of majesty.

Albert’s choice to live her life as a man began after a vicious assault at age fourteen. She saw how men were able to get by more easily and once she started living a lie, she never stopped. She’s been saving her money for years in anticipation of starting her own business. For Albert, everything is all about survival and the insurance that’s needed for it. Never does it occur to her to eventually stop hiding and have a personal life with friends, joy and all the pleasures of life she deserves.

The friendship she develops with Hubert exposes her to an association she never even knew she wanted. She feels Hubert’s sincere care for her and it fuels her with a sensational revelation of what it feels like to have someone you can lean on in times of need.

Janet McTeer could put out fires with the level of confidence she breathes into Hubert Page. She lives her life in disguise but she’s not living in fear. She’s used to the routine she’s developed and she’s married someone she loves who’ll help keep her secret. Hubert’s wife Cathleen (Bronagh Gallagher) is someone who was there for Hubert when she needed her and they feel safely held by each other.

Hubert feels very protective of Albert and sees the same vulnerability in her that she once had. She also sees her loneliness and encourages her to carefully find someone to share the same tranquility that she and Cathleen have. She knows that because she found her safe haven, she can encourage someone like her to find theirs.

Mia Wasikowska’s performance as Helen gives Albert Nobbs an extra golden touch. Helen is someone who wants a bigger life full of travel and enjoyment. She’s definitely a dreamer but she also knows how to work hard. She started working when her father died and she took anything she could get.

Life hasn’t been harsh to her the way it has to Albert and Hubert but Helen has had to struggle and she doesn’t want to struggle anymore. She knows that a wealthy man is her ticket to the life she wants and she has no problem with that.

Helen is a romantic and she has the charm, beauty and flirtatious nature that she knows can be used to her advantage. Albert begins courting her and while she doesn’t ignore Albert’s affections, she doesn’t reciprocate them. She and Albert both have very different lives that they want for themselves. Helen doesn’t know Albert’s secret so she is unable to comprehend why Albert would be content with what she sees as so little.

The costumes of Albert Nobbs represent the class system the characters are obligated to be aware of. They can dress up, go out and disguise themselves as having security but in the confines of their living quarters, they are seen as the lesser person. The fabrics and colors of the costumes also showcase how long ago this film really goes back and it makes for a dramatic period piece.

Overall, Albert Nobbs is one of those films that’s really all about the characters and Close, McTeer and Wasikowska are the salt, pepper, and cumin that make Albert Nobbs such a delicious recipe. The film is a beautifully interesting study about people with different wants and needs who all reside in the same world but live different lives.

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