In the same year that Seana McKenna was Richard III at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and Gaea Gaddy truly found his/her own skin in Open (cross-references below), Glenn Close takes her/his turn masquerading as a man in order to eke out a living of servitude in an upscale in Dublin hotel (ruled with a strong hand, if not above rationalization when required, by Pauline Collins). Along with Booker Prize winner (2005) John Banville, Close also wrote the screenplay, based on The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs by George Moore.
Curiously, the film’s biggest accomplishment is to send viewers to the bookstore in search of the original to see if what was left to the mind’s imagination (dress, undress, smell, touch) works better on paper than it does on the big screen.
The early line, “We are both disguised as ourselves,” (prior to a lovely snack of high tea and Bushnell’s—a favourite repast of Dr. Holloran, Brendan Gleeson at the top of his bedside manner) sets the stage for the highly personal revelations to come (none finer than Janet McTeer’s courageous, beautifully nuanced performance as Hubert Page), but it’s hard to get past Close’s too-feminine-by-half visage and accept the vital premise that her male charade has fooled so many for so long. The constant bowler hat and occasional umbrella unintentionally conjure up the ghost of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp.
McKenna succeeded as Shakespeare’s idea of evil incarnate by embracing the ugliness of her character and combining a purposely husky delivery with a touch of feminine wiliness: the despot’s gender was the last thing on anyone’s mind as the body count grew. Gaddy’s surgical transition, on the other hand, has many moments where the camera does the talking, letting the viewer fill in the blanks—or not, depending on the degree of comfort when God’s plan is so irreversibly altered.
Had director Rodrigo García managed to show much more than tell and draw Close far deeper into her masculine side, this film could have been a stunning depiction of what swirls about with such unrequited passion in so many lost souls instead of a too-beautifully rendered study of the different amongst us. JWR