Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Few Good Men

Glenn Close has garnered much publicity and an Oscar nomination for her starring role as an Englishwoman in late-nineteenth century Dublin who lives her life as a man waiting tables in an upmarket Dublin hotel and patiently storing her money underneath the floorboards of her attic bedroom until the day she can buy a tobacco shop and live independently. Life, as it invariably does, complicates matters somewhat when her secret is discovered by a man hired to paint the hotel's pantry called Hubert Page who is also, it transpires, a woman masquerading as a man. Meeting Hubert and discovering the happiness she has found for herself suggests to Albert that her singular existence does not necessarily condemn her to a life of loneliness and she finds herself drawn to vivacious young maid Helen Dawes, who is not unattached herself having fallen for the dashing yet feckless hotel handyman Joe. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we decide to live our lives as a member of the opposite sex...........

Close, who has wanted to play this part on the big screen for thirty years, produced the movie, handpicked the talented director Rodrigo Garcia, co-wrote the screenplay with novelist John Banville, provided the lyrics for the beautiful theme song sung by Sinéad O Connor and presumably baked the biscuits for the tea break on set. Playing A. Nobbs is undoubtedly a challenge for an actress and although she conveys Albert's curious mixture of childlike innocence and steely determination brilliantly, the character's motivations remain troublingly obscure throughout the film and we never really get to know Nobbs all that well. Janet McTeer's Hubert is a very engaging creation, however, unpredictable and surly yet kind and loving and evidently a graduate from the school of hard knocks, as are many of the supporting characters in this admirably unsentimental film. As the various staff members and guests, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Brenda Fricker, Antonia Campbell Hughes, Brendan Gleeson, Serena Brabazon, Phyllida Law and Mark Williams are all excellent although it is Pauline Collins as vicious Mrs Baker, the proprietress of Morrison's Hotel, who makes a lasting impression. For their part, Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson's touching performances as Helen and Joe are undermined by their hopelessly unconvincing Irish accents.

Albert Nobbs is tellingly reminiscent of John Huston''s 1987 treatment of James Joyce's iconic story The Dead with its melancholy tone and its scenes of lavish parties attended by people living disappointed and unfulfilled lives while the snow falls outside. The film is rich in social detail and particularly strong on the lot of women and the class system without labouring either point although religion and politics seem strangely absent from conversations being held in Dublin in 1898. There is, in short, much to enjoy in Albert Nobbs but the main problem is, sadly, Albert Nobbs herself. At one point, a baffled character wonders why Albert lives her life as she does. I've sat through the movie and liked it but I'm damned if I know!

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