There's a bit of Downton Abbey about Albert Nobbs: The staff of a late-19th-century Dublin hotel scurry and fuss, catering to the well-to-dos in the salon, the restaurant, and the rooms upstairs. There is drama, romance, some thievery and deception, and the strict demarcations of class and gender are everywhere - as are the tortured souls fighting to escape them.
But unlike the sprawling ensemble of PBS's hit series, Albert Nobbs' focus is on one man - or, more to the point, one woman who has been passing herself off as a man. Mr. Nobbs - a compelling, compassionate, and just-announced Oscar-nominated turn from Glenn Close - is a butler in the hotel, a slight creature of late middle age who nods obsequiously and keeps a deep, dark secret locked inside.
Adapted from a short story (by George Moore) and a play (by Simone Benmussa, in which Close starred 30 years ago), Albert Nobbs offers a surprisingly moving portrait of this repressed and damaged person. It would have been difficult for Nobbs, with neither family nor friends, to have gotten by as a woman in the Ireland of the times, and so he has found a home, and a respectable living, serving claret and fine cuisine to viscounts and ladies, doctors and artistes.
Brendan Gleeson, Phyllida Law, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are among the patrons who consider Nobbs a good man. Pauline Collins is the hotel's proprietress. And downstairs, Brenda Fricker runs the kitchen, Maria Doyle Kennedy is a chambermaid carrying on with one of the hotel's regulars, and Mia Wasikowska is Helen, a young maid whom Nobbs, rather delusionally and tragically, begins to court.