Film review, ALBERT NOBBS, from Built for Speed

I suspect the producers of Albert Nobbs hoped to benefit from the fascination with 19th century upstairs-downstairs intrigue generated by Downton Abbey.  Set in a similar environment although this time it’s an upmarket Dublin hotel the film takes the notion of servants subordinated by society to a new level.

This strange story of (often painful) gender bending sees a woman (Glenn Close) forced to pose as a man to obtain employment as a butler at the hotel. With a George from Of Mice and Men-like ambition of earning enough money to open a shop, she lives in constant fear of being discovered and having her dream destroyed. Close, who played the role of Nobbs to great acclaim on stage infuses the character with a mix of anxiety, quiet dignity and compassion even though as some have pointed out she looks exactly like comic actor Red Buttons. For her fine performance here Glen Close is looking like an Oscar contender.

Like Downton Abbey the film explores the social strata of the house with its brutal pecking order from snooty upper class guests down to the much abused young kitchen maids who include Australia’s Mia Wasikowska. Within this oppressively structured world nearly everyone is forced to live a lie.

After establishing its intriguing premise, this quietly moving film loses some of its dramatic grip mid-way through and starts to resemble a channel 7 mid-day movie. Fortunately the film regains its hold in the final stages.

This relatively slight story is aided by fine performances from the entire cast. In addition to Close, the ever reliable Brendan Gleeson is amusing as a sozzled old doctor who lives at the hotel.  Janet McTeer also delivers a poignant performance as another woman forced to dress as a man to survive.  Best of all though is Pauline Collins as the conniving hotel owner who tries to worm her way into the favours of her rich flaky guests.

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