In “Albert Nobbs,” Glenn Close plays a character she first played almost 30 years ago on the stage – a waiter in a late-19th century Dublin hotel who has passed as a man for most of her adult life. Her disguise is presented as an act of self-preservation, a way for a single woman to stay off the streets and away from the poorhouse and the clutches of male violence.
From a psychological standpoint, this rationale doesn’t really explain Albert’s life change and to its credit, the film, which was directed by Rodrigo García and written by Close, Gabriella Prekop, and Irish novelist John Banville, doesn’t spell anything out for us.
Albert sees himself as a model gentleman and that means taking a wife, so he sets his sights on the hotel’s flirty chambermaid, Helen (Mia Wasikowska). The sadness and almost Chaplinesque pathos that ensues is well wrought and Close, although she is so recessive that at times she seems to fade into the ether, is quite touching. Her explosive counterpart is Janet McTeer’s Hubert Page, a housepainter who is also a woman in disguise but, unlike Albert, revels in her maleness. Grade: B (Rated R for some sexuality, brief nudity, and language.)