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Film / Albert Nobbs

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Albert Nobbs is a 2011 British-Irish drama film directed by Rodrigo García and starring Glenn Close. The screenplay, by Close, John Banville, and Gabriella Prekop, is based on a 1927 novella by George Moore, which had been earlier adapted as a play in which Close starred Off-Broadway in 1982.

Albert Nobbs (Close) is a butler at the Morrison Hotel in late-19th-century Dublin, Ireland. However, Albert guards a secret: While he has spent the last 30 years living as a man, he was assigned female at birth. Albert's secret is discovered by Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), only for him to reveal to Albert that he is keeping the same secret about himself, living as a man after escaping an abusive husband. After seeing that Hubert lives happily with a wife, he decides to try something similar for himself by asking out maid Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska).

This film features examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: The film ends with Hubert promising to take care of Helen after Helen tells him that she will be separated from her son and thrown out into the street, but we never see if Hubert actually manages to avoid this.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Hubert is married to a woman whom he loves, but it isn't clear if he's a trans man or just a woman living as a man, nor his wife's exact relationship with him (i.e. if it's sexual etc). The same can be asked of Albert, who is attracted to Helen.
  • Ambiguous Gender Identity: Albert and Hubert may be trans men, or simply women living as men. This is never made clear (both do call themselves women at points, but might lack the vocabulary for anything else). The scene where they try women's clothes for the first time in a long while (where they both at first are highly uncomfortable, before appearing to have fun, only to change back into their men's clothing after Albert stumbles and falls) does not help clear things up.
  • Beta Couple: Hubert and Cathleen. Their happy relationship is in fact what encourages Albert to ask Helen out.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Albert's backstory is one of hardship: born illegitimate and then abandoned, Albert was adopted by a Mrs. Nobbs and educated in a convent before being expelled after his mother died. One night, aged 14 and still living as a girl, Albert was brutally gang-raped and beaten by a group of men. It was afterwards that, after hearing there was a need for waiters, Albert bought a suit, was interviewed and hired, and began his life with a male identity.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Helen eventually names her son Albert Joseph after Albert dies.
  • Everyone Has Standards: While Joe is an unsympathetic cad for most of the film, he states that the reason why he's terrified of the idea of having a child with Helen is that his father was abusive, and he's afraid that he'll be abusive too. He still thinks that the best solution to this is to go to America and leave the child behind, though.
  • Give the Baby a Father: When Albert learns that Helen is pregnant from the cad Joe, he offers to marry her, but she refuses, saying Albert does not love her. After Helen eventually has Joe's baby, who's long abandoned her by then, and with Albert himself having died (and been discovered to be secretly female), Helen knows it's only a matter of time before the Church finds out, which means the baby will be taken away and she'll be thrown out onto the street. But when she tells Albert's friend Hubert (who is also secretly female) that, he says, "Well, we can't let that happen," and one assumes he's going to marry her to prevent it.
  • Happily Married: Hubert and Cathleen live happily despite the fact that Hubert has to deal with the secret that he's in fact biologically a female living as a man.
  • Hidden Buxom: Hubert confides in Albert that he'd been assigned female at birth by unbuttoning the shirt to reveal large breasts.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Joe is a cad who encourages Helen to lead Albert on so that Albert can give her gifts, fights with Helen, and eventually leaves for America the moment responsibilities start to appear in front of him.
  • Pair the Spares: After Hubert's wife Cathleen dies and Helen's suitors Joe and Albert leave and die, respectively, the ending implies that Hubert will marry Helen (even if at least initially it's only for Helen to avoid losing the child she had with Joe).
  • Rape as Backstory: Albert was brutally gang-raped and beaten as part of his backstory.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Albert and Hubert are both biologically female though living as men, with male clothing, for work. However, one or both could be transgender, it isn't clarified.
  • Tap on the Head: Averted. Albert attacks Joe when he gets physical with Helen, and Joe throws Albert against a wall, hitting Albert in the head. Albert retires to bed, bleeding from one ear, and is forgotten in the continuing commotion. Helen finds Albert dead in his bed the next morning.
  • What If the Baby Is Like Me: Joe's excuse for being terrified after he discovers that Helen is pregnant with his child is that he fears he will become like his abusive father.