"I think you are the strangest man I have ever met," a young maid named Helen (Mia Wasikowska) tells the butler at the hotel that employs them both. Helen doesn't know the half of it: Albert Nobbs, in his three-piece suit, starched collar and severe demeanor, is a woman, forced into menswear to get better jobs in a time and town turn-of-the-20th-century Dublin unready for women's equal opportunities. But Albert, who has been stiffly courting the unresponsive Helen, wants more: to buy a tobacco shop, with this pretty girl behind the counter by day and in the upstairs bedroom by night. "Shall I tell her beforehand," Albert asks her only confidante, another secret cross-dresser (Janet McTeer), "or wait for the wedding night?"
Glenn Close, who takes the title role, played the character onstage in 1982 in an adaptation of George Moore's short story "The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs." Since then, she has anguished to bring the story to the screen, finally co-producing and co-writing it. Rodrigo García (the son of Nobel literary laureate Gabriel García Márquez) was a fine choice for director: no detonator of visual fireworks, he has a knack for intimate, gynocentric drama, as in Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her and Mother and Child, as well as the pilot for HBO's Big Love. Taking his cue from Albert's and Close's bold reticence, García allows the drama to unfold at a quiet volume and a measured pace. He trusts the viewer to supply the comedy and pathos simply by virtue of living in a slightly more enlightened time. Women have their rights now in Western society though less so in Hollywood, where a female of a certain age has about as much chance of financing a personal project like this as an Irish woman a hundred years ago had in finding an honorable job without hiding in drag.
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