Film review: Albert Nobbs

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Minh Ngo is currently creeping through the final years of a combined Bachelor of Arts and Law degree and this is her first film review for Trove.

The opinions expressed in Trove are those of individual contributors and not those of the editoral committee or the steering committee (as editorial advisers) or UWA.


Reviewed by Minh Ngo

Edited by Rachael Hains-Wesson

Film: Albert Nobbs
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Running time: 113 minutes
Year of release: 2011
Language: English

Albert Nobbs is directed by Rodrigo Garcia and has been adapted for the screen by Glenn Close and John Banville from the same titled short story by George Moore. The narrative examines how a butler, Albert Nobbs (Glen Close) conceals her biological gender in order to pass as a man in nineteenth-century Dublin. Nobbs has been employed for thirty years in a boutique hotel where even the staff and the hotel guests never realise that he is really a she

One of the film’s central themes is romance, occurring first between a plain-faced maid Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska) and a recalcitrant hotel resident and jack-of-all-trades, Joe Macken (Aaron Johnson). Even though this romantic interlude unfolds into an explosive courtship that is built on physical attraction, unfortunately the relationship offers very little on the screen. It is not until Albert decides to pursue Helen that the plot becomes interesting.

Albert approaches Helen in a naïve and at times desperate and pitiable way. However, Albert’s attraction towards Helen also captures his fragile and emotional obsession concerning unobtainable love. Close’s portrayal of Albert Nobbs is executed with great seriousness and deliberation, conveying the heavy weight associated with keeping a difficult secret on an ongoing basis.

The reasons behind Albert hiding her biological sexual identity (other than for equality/power) is never fully explored and is therefore left open, inviting the audience's interpretation. When asked about her real name, she simply replies ‘Albert Nobbs’. There is also a poignant scene when Albert is seen walking along the beach in female clothing, clearly relishing the opportunity to recapture femininity.

Despite the minimal exploration of the philosophical issues of gender and sexuality in nineteenth-century Dublin, the film does illustrate the tragedy associated with the concealment of a secret and a missed opportunity that defies the boundaries of gender/sexuality - love.

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