Albert Nobbs: A Man with a Secret, A Woman with a Dream (2011)

Posted: May 21, 2012 in Drama

In Ireland, Albert Nobbs has a secret that has fooled almost everyone. He is actually a she and he struggles with inner conflicts of identity and love. When he is bunked up with a new hard laborer, Hubert Page, he is finally discovered to be a woman trying to disguise himself to work as a butler. As the two develop a close friendship, Albert is able to talk about his interest in saving up enough money to leave the hotel business and open up his own shop. On top of his career goals, he hopes to court a young maid, who seems to also have eyes for another. After getting the courage to talk to her, Albert gets Helen to join him for a walk, but her secret boyfriend finds the situation amusing and convinces her to string him along.

Starring: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Antonia Campbell-Hughes (Emmy), Mia Wasikowska (Helen), Pauline Collins (Mrs. Baker), Mark Williams (Sean), Pauline Collins (Mrs. Baker), Bronagh Gallagher (Cathleen), Brendan Gleeson (Dr. Holloran)

While the story can be a little tough to follow at times, one of the decisive strengths of this film can be found in the acting. Glenn Close takes the premier role of Albert Nobbs and presents a convincing portrayal of a person in conflict. Though hidden behind a solemn and proper demeanor, Close gives the character an element of depth in the mystery of how she came to be a woman posing as a man. Providing a sense of support for her struggles to understand her feelings, Janet McTeer also represents a woman leading a double life. In a similar way, she embraces the experience of living as a man but has found a way to achieve something that Albert cannot: love. Mia Wasikowska may serve as the love interest, but she represents a fickle person who does not know what she wants out of a relationship. Aaron Johnson plays the other side of the love triangle, as the brutish and devilish controller of Wasikowska’s heart.


In a period piece representing Ireland in the 1800s, Rodrigo Garcia focused on telling a story of a woman whose identity was a mystery to everyone. While no one was the wiser, Albert Nobbs had a number of secrets masked by his proper and simply demeanor. When Hubert figures out one of Albert’s prized secrets, it actually becomes an opportunity for him to have someone to talk to about his personal goals and his love interests. After getting the needed support of another woman living as a man, Albert finally has enough courage to put himself out there, but he is blissfully unaware that Helen does not see him in the same way. While so focused on winning her affections, Albert actually sets himself up to fall. Helen’s and Joe’s secret relationship and the child they are going to have together becomes a complication to being able to let herself fall for a genuinely kind and respectful man.


Where the film is strong in its individual acting talents and its occasional humorous quip or action, it falls a little short in its sound editing and presentation. The story is one where some of the events are meant to take place in the shadows, under the radar. Unfortunately, the soften-spoken scenes involving Glenn Close are hard to follow, leaving the viewer to try to guess at the purpose of the interaction as future events begin to unfold. In his conversations with Hubert, Albert reveals a bit of why he chose to live as a man, but some of it gets muffled in comparison to the distinguishing volume of other scenes. In a similar sense, there is a daydream sequence in which Albert has opened a tobacco shop, but it is not ever clear (or easy to miss) what his future business plans were really going to be.

With a slow start and some difficult to hear/understand lives, it is more difficult to make a good connection to this film. Still, the storyline begins to expand more after the first third of the film, opening up a more enjoyable and dynamic experience.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5


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