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Albert Nobbs Blu-ray Review

Albert Nobbs (2011) movie poster Albert Nobbs

Theatrical Release: December 21, 2011 / Running Time: 113 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Rodrigo Garcia / Writers: Gabriella Prekop, John Banville, Glenn Close (screenplay); George Moore (novella); Istvan Szabo (story)

Cast: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Mia Wasikowska (Helen Dawes), Aaron Johnson (Joe Mackins), Janet McTeer (Hubert Page), Pauline Collins (Mrs. Baker), Brenda Fricker (Polly), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Viscount Yarrell), Brendan Gleeson (Dr. Holloran), Maria Doyle Kennedy (Mary), Antonia Campbell Hughes (Emmy), Mark Williams (Sean Casey), James Greene (Patrick), Bronagh Gallagher (Cathleen), John Light (Mr. Smythe-Willard)

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In 1982, 35-year-old Glenn Close was just about to launch a film career. She would amazingly pick up successive Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nominations for each of her first three films: The World According to Garp (1982), The Big Chill (1983), and The Natural (1984). But before Garp's release, Close was a New York stage actress, as she had been for the past eight years.

A Tony nominee for the 1980 Jim Dale musical Barnum, Close would win the Best Actress Obie Award for her work in the play The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs. Written and directed by Simone Benmussa, the Off-Broadway production had originated in Paris in 1978 and moved to London shortly thereafter. It was based on a supposedly fact-inspired 1918 short story by Irish novelist George Moore.
Though Close continued to earn accolades for her work on stage, in films from blockbusters (Fatal Attraction and 101 Dalmatians) to costume dramas (Dangerous Liaisons, Hamlet), and on television (most recently, FX's decorated drama "Damages"), she never forgot Albert Nobbs.

For years, Close tried to get a film version of the play off the ground. She came close near the turn of the century with Hungarian director Istvαn Szabσ, but financing fell through. At the end of 2010, the project finally became a reality, when cameras began rolling in Ireland, not with originally attached actors Amanda Seyfried and Orlando Bloom but with their younger, less famous replacements Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson. Close not only held the title role, but also earned credit as a screenwriter, producer, and writer of the film's closing Sinιad O'Connor song. Clearly, this was a labor of love for Close, now 65, for which she was rewarded with more extensive recognition than any other role to date, drawing among other honors her sixth Oscar nomination and ninth Golden Globe nod.

Glenn Close stars as gender-bending Dublin hotel waiter Albert Nobbs.

Albert Nobbs is set primarily in Morrison's Hotel of Dublin at the turn of the 20th century. Waiter Nobbs is an integral part of the inn's large staff and has been for as long as anyone can remember. No one else knows it, but Nobbs is actually a woman, who hides her gender with a short haircut and a tightly-bound corset.

As luck or fiction would have it, our time with Albert Nobbs poses the evidently first real obstacle to keeping her true nature secret. The hotel's owner Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins) asks Albert to share his bed with Mr. Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), the house painter who is about to work on a few rooms. Unable to breathe comfortably in that corset, Albert's fussing wakes up Mr. Page, who discovers the truth. Albert's secret is out but safe in the hands of Mr. Page, whose bared breasts confirm what our eyes and my parenthetical actor identification already have made clear: she too is a lady, living and working as a man.

The difference is "Mr." Page has a house, a wife, and her own business. Her lifestyle fascinates and inspires Albert, who has been keeping years' worth of tips under a floor board in her room. Suddenly, Albert Nobbs has a goal: to marry, open a tobacco shop, and live over it with her wife. She even has the ideal busy location picked out. All she needs is a wife.

To that end, Albert asks cheeky, flirtatious young maid Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska) to walk out with her (well, him, since Albert's real sex remains unknown to Helen and the rest of the world). Like her finances, Albert treats the chaste courtship with caution and calculation. That makes her less than affectionate, but Helen isn't lacking in that area, thanks to her more sincere and passionate romance with Joe Mackins (Aaron Johnson), a poor young illiterate man who stumbles into work as the hotel's boiler repairman. Joe dreams of a new start with Helen in America and he sees Albert Nobbs as their harmless ticket out, encouraging Helen to accept Albert's advances and the generous gifts that come with them, like chocolates and whisky.

The androgynous and seemingly asexual but lonely Albert's complicated desires and relationship status come to a head in a post-outbreak final act in a way that viewers will either find unsatisfying or inevitable.

More convincing female-to-male transgender Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) inspires Albert Nobbs to dream big. While they fool around and make plans for America, Joe (Aaron Johnson) and Helen (Mia Wasikowska) aren't opposed to exploiting Albert Nobbs on the side.

Based on Close's persistence to get it made as well as the timing and buzz with which it was finally released, Albert Nobbs is a slighter film than you would expect. There is no specific historical basis and there isn't even much to suggest that working class women in Victorian times regularly transgendered themselves to make ends meet. That drains the film of historical significance and it's not as if Moore's story or Benmussa's adaptation of it are especially well-remembered.
But, Albert Nobbs proves that if a movie simply looks like a prestige picture with a period setting and an end-of-year release, it can be regarded as a prestige picture.

And it fits that role quite well, despite being a bit short on substance. The setting is distinctive and appealing. The movie wastes no time getting us acclimated to the hotel's order and the staff's good-humored camaraderie away from public eye (an area in which the all-business Nobbs is lacking).

It must be noted that, despite the Best Makeup and Best Actress Oscar nominations, we never buy Albert Nobbs as a man in manner or appearance, except maybe in the way that she resembles Robin Williams' Bicentennial Man. The same is true of Mr. Page, despite McTeer's unusual height, gruffer personality, and more dramatic transformation. Of course, when you think about it, anyone cross-dressing to find work back then must have had limited means to look the part. The film's ever-distracting conceit of having no character even the slightest bit suspicious of these transgendered ciphers may be a triumph of historical accuracy. Still, one wonders, while struggling to remember that the characters see Nobbs as 100% man, were Irish people really so gullible and easily deceived back then?

Albert Nobbs is a lot more straightforward than you would envision, with scenes as simple as the protagonist wondering aloud how Hubert could marry a woman and whether or not she'd let her know her secret. It's never entirely clear if Nobbs is intended as a naοf or if the story and play from which this springs were uninterested in complexity and subtlety. Nonetheless, the drama is easy to get swept up in, as characters' contrary intentions and appearances get tangled up. Director Rodrigo Garcia (Mother and Child, Passengers, HBO's "In Treatment") opts for accessibility over artifice, keeping the exchanges and motivations utterly relatable to 21st century viewers. And yet his film still has the luster and polish of an opulent period drama, stretching the estimated $8 million budget, which required no fewer than ten credited production companies, as much as is needed.

The film did not emerge from the award season victoriously, getting shut out in three Oscar categories, three Golden Globe categories, and almost every other ceremony but the Irish Film and Television Awards. And despite all the free press that comes from recognition, this was not a hit in theaters, where it received limited release from distributor Roadside Attractions and not until the week of Oscar nominations. Critics were fairly mixed too, yielding a narrowly rotten rating on the most-cited aggregate site.

For its second chance to win notice, Lionsgate brings Albert Nobbs to DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday.

Albert Nobbs Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: May 15, 2012
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($27.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video


Albert Nobbs looks exquisite in the Blu-ray's seemingly flawless 2.35:1 presentation. The pristine element boasts terrific colors, appropriate sharpness, and wonderful detail, making it easy to admire the make-up effects and notice how they do not trick us into seeing men. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is also highly satisfactory. Although the mix of score, mostly low-decibel dialogue, and infrequent atmosphere keep this far from demo material, one appreciates just how crisp and clear the mix's recordings are.

Dr. Halloran (Brendan Gleeson) opens up to Albert about his divorce in this deleted pub scene. With a trailer like this, who could have foreseen a Best Actress Oscar campaign for Glenn Close?


Albert Nobbs gets a simple slate of just three supplements, far from the feast such a long-in-the-making adaptation would seem to lend itself to.

First up is an audio commentary by Glenn Close and director Rodrigo Garcia. Their remarks remain very much in the moment,
focusing on what's onscreen without shedding too much light on why this story had to be told and put on film. For all the passion that drove Close to make the film and roadblocks she had to overcome, this track is fairly lifeless and unrevealing.

Three deleted scenes (8:16, HD) let Albert and Joe interact, gather some more on the hotel's heavy-drinking doctor (Brendan Gleeson), and present another instance of Helen playing Albert for a handout.

Albert Nobbs' theatrical trailer (2:32, HD) is kindly preserved in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.

"Also From Lionsgate" repeats the same fourteen minutes of HD ads with which the disc loads: trailers for Biutiful, Circumstance, I Love You Phillip Morris, Margin Call, and Winter's Bone, and an ad for the channel EPIX.

The menu devotes nearly the full screen to a standard, scored montage and thankfully allows you to disable its loud navigational sound effects (though doing so deactivates the menu's score as well). The disc does not resume playback, but it does support bookmarks on the film.

Well, this is awkward... the asexual old woman (Glenn Close) pretending to be a man tries courting a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) who is involved with a young man.


While Albert Nobbs cannot reach the high standards to which we hold award bait period fare, its curious, human tale with far-reaching implications still manages to make a lasting impression on you. Lionsgate's Blu-ray is a lot lighter on extras than you'd expect and hope, but the feature presentation is stunning and practically flawless. Though not worthy of Oscar wins, it is worthy of an open-minded look.

Buy Albert Nobbs from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
2011 Best Actress Nominees: The Iron Lady • My Week with Marilyn • The Help | New: W./E. • Vanya on 42nd Street • War Horse
Glenn Close: 101 Dalmatians • 102 Dalmatians • Tarzan • Tarzan II • Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil
Mia Wasikowska: The Kids Are All Right • That Evening Sun • Alice in Wonderland • Amelia
Aaron Johnson: Nowhere Boy • Kick-Ass | Brendan Gleeson: The Guard • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire • Braveheart
Jonathan Rhys Meyers: The Tudors: The Complete First Season | Mark Williams: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 | Brenda Fricker: Angels in the Outfield
Adapted from Stage: Doubt • The Ides of March | Ireland: Darby O'Gill and the Little People | Victorian Era: Sherlock Holmes
The Happiest Millionaire • Rebecca • Mary Poppins • Mrs. Doubtfire • The Conspirator • Enchanted April

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Reviewed May 11, 2012.

Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 LD Entertainment, Roadside Attractions, Trillium Productions, Mockingbird Pictures, Parallel Films and 2012 Lionsgate.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.