It was so great to see Glenn Close back on the big screen in Albert Nobbs. It’s been too long. She, like many other actresses of her generation, have found TV to be the place where she can play richer characters than in film.
But she’s back in Albert Nobbs which has been a passion project of hers for over two decades since she played the character Off-Broadway. She’s the producer, the co-writer as well as the star. It’s something that stuck with her, and in the notes for the film it said she gave the script to Bonnie Curtis who would become one of the producers and said “I want to play this part before I die.”
Albert Nobbs is a woman playing a male waiter and a swank hotel in 19th century Ireland. She’s lived as a man since her teens when circumstances and violence made her look to the safety of acting like a man to protect her from the vicious streets. Then it just became easier, and after time, it became who she was.
She’s lived so many years as a man that she has never learned to be a woman and she never could really be a man. So she’s stuck in this world of not being a man or a woman and lived in constant fear of being found out.
The discovery of her identity happens by accident by another woman living as a man Hubert Page, a house painter, played brilliantly by Janet McTeer. She really reveals to Albert the possibility of a happy life and that opens up a whole new way of thinking for Albert.
The problem for the film is that even though it is set in 19th century Ireland we come into it from the 21st century and the way the gender identity issues were dealt with left a lot to be desired. There is such rich material to discuss and it has such potential yet the film did not go there. It never really explored Albert’s naivete with herself and it also never really explored the relationship between Hubert and his wife Kathleen. They were clearly lovers and in love but the fact that they were lesbians was never mentioned or even hinted at in a way that could give poor Albert any help in his decision making. The best scene in the film by far was the scene when Albert and Hubert put on dresses and headed out for the sea looking like a bunch of drag queens. That was a scene that was full of life and let the women question the decisions they had made in their lives.