“Albert Nobbs” is taken from the novella by Irish writer George Augustus Moore. Of course it is. Because only an Irish writer could know, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan did in his famous purloined quote, “I don’t think there is any point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart.” (Thomas Adcock said it first.)

And there are plenty of broken hearts to go around in this quintessential Irish story of want and loss, of dreams and sorrow. Moore’s story of Albert Nobbs goes directly to the rooms of the heart, where the deepest cracks let in faint light.

Director Rodrigo Garcia must have been channeling David Lean and John Huston, so deeply Irish is his film. His cast steps right out of the very best Irish players.

But “Albert Nobbs” belongs to the great Glenn Close, who not only helped write it but also delivers a strong, almost chilling performance as a woman, who, faced with a 19th-century worldview of women and the abysmal dominance of men, is forced to disguise herself as a man so that she can earn a living in a world where women were either gentry or downstairs chattel. The real reason Close’s Nobbs took such steps are revealed mid-film in a conversation with a friend who has his own identity secrets.

Nobbs, who works her days bound in a suffocating corset, short masculine hair and affected rough voice, is employed in Dublin’s Morrison Hotel, owned by Margaret Baker, played by the wonderful Pauline Collins in one of those juicy imperious characters you love to hate.

The hotel caters to whatever pretentious upper class is left over after the better hotels are full up. But its regular boarders make up a hodgepodge of misfits and pretenders to non-existent royalty.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers appears here as a bi-sexual Viscount Yarrell. He is billed high but has only a few moments.

The creaky old Morrison is an ancient hall full of aging and young hearts and broken ones. Moore’s characters are clearly cousins and lovers of James Joyce’s “The Dead,” and a couple of odd ones out of Oscar Wilde.

Ireland’s great Brendan Gleeson lives here as boozing womanizing Dr. Holloran, who sees the sordid world through whiskey-clouded eyes and keeps his sorrows hidden behind Irish humor.

There is Judy Donovan as a downstairs maid and the doctor’s upstairs-down the hall lover.

The luminous Mia Wasikowska (“Jane Eyre”) and the handsome Aaron Taylor-Johnson are the star-crossed lovers, who move in and out of Albert’s life and add the rain and salt to Albert’s wounds.

But all of these pilgrims simply add focus to the saddest of all, the quiet, ghostly Albert.

“Nobbs” is closest to Ms. Close’s greatest roles and would top the list were it not for her Marquise de Merteuil in “Dangerous Liaisons” and that bunny-murdering vixen from hell, Alex Forrest in “Fatal Attraction.”

This one qualifies as an Oscar wrongly missed. There is no Sunny von Bulow or Jenny Fields here, only a broken creature with simple dreams and an aching heart.

This must be said: “Nobbs” is a particularly difficult film to review, because it is such a 19th-century magic box of surprises, real surprises, some so jaw-dropping that to give one word, one gesture, or even one first name away, is to ruin them. And I can’t tell you about the breathtaking, scene stealing work of J. McTeer. So I won’t. The surprises, the shocking turn of events are yours to unwrap.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer and former actor.


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