Albert Nobbs is a film which I found both impressive and disappointing. It’s unusually intelligent about gender but it also contains some of the weaknesses that often undermine the representation of LGBTQ characters in film and, ultimately, it left me feeling ambivalent.
Set in nineteenth-century Ireland, the film centres on the figure of Albert (Glenn Close), a person who has been assigned female at birth, but who from adolescence onwards has lived as a man. Despite developing a successful career as a waiter in hotels, Albert’s shyness and fear of discovery has resulted in him becoming lonely and socially isolated. Albert’s life changes when he meets Hubert (Janet McTeer), another female-assigned person who is living as a man. Hubert has a more positive outlook on their predicament and opens Albert’s eyes to the possibility of an independent life, of owing his own business and perhaps even marrying. Albert sets about courting a young woman called Helen (Mia Wasikowska) who works in the hotel, not realising that she is already involved in a romance with a young man called Joe who wants to emigrate to America. Seeing an opportunity here, Joe persuades Helen to lead Albert on in the hope that she will gain access to his money.
Spoiler Alert – this post discusses the plot in detail