Albert Nobbs

Fri, Apr 27, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Rodrigo García. Starring Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Janet McTeer, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Brenda Fricker, Brendan Gleeson, Bronagh Gallagher, Maria Doyle Kennedy 15A cert, general release, 113 min

THE FACT THAT it took so long for this strange picture to secure Irish distribution is not a particularly encouraging sign.

After all, Albert Nobbs, largely set in a Dublin hotel, did manage three Oscar nominations: Glenn Close was shortlisted for best actress; Janet McTeer competed for best supporting actress; and our own Lynn Johnson was among the nominees for best makeup.

Sure enough, it turns out to be a massively muddled affair. The bare script, co-authored by John Banville, has a literary integrity to it. But the finished work, derived from a stage adaptation of a George Moore story, appears fatally stranded between feminist polemic and accidental magic realism.

Still, if you must attend, you will surely enjoy one of the great bad- accent showdowns of our time. On balance, Aaron Johnson tortures enough vowels to secure this year’s Dick Van Dyke Award.

Close, her own accent drifting randomly from Birmingham to the East End, plays a waiter who, for reasons only sketchily explained, feels forced to live life as a man. Straight-backed Albert Nobbs has long cherished an ambition to open a tobacco shop. To that end, she hides all her savings in an empty space beneath a loose floorboard.

Much of the action involves Albert’s excruciating efforts to persuade a reluctant maid (Mia Wasikowska, whose ghastly vocal contortions offer Johnson some competition for the Van Dyke) to join her behind the counter in unlikely married bliss. McTeer turns up as another woman – married to a likable Bronagh Gallagher – who has taken to dressing and walking like a chap.

The supporting Irish players emerge unscathed. Brendan Gleeson, Maria Doyle Kennedy and Brenda Fricker all offer rounded, attractive cameos. But Close’s turn is so oddly pitched that it proves impossible to take the picture seriously. She’s not quite a man. She’s not quite a woman. She’s barely a human being. More than anything else, Albert resembles the wooden, naive, sexless alien played by David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth.

In contrast, McTeer, despite managing impressive masculine swagger, simply comes across as, well, a woman in trousers. Each time somebody refers to her as “he” one can’t help but think of Rowan Atkinson’s comic disbelief when Gabrielle Glaister passed for a male comic in Blackadder Goes Forth.

“‘He’? ‘He’?” the cowardly officer exclaimed. “You see. You’re laughing already,” Lord Melchett replied.