December 12, 2011 -- This strange film about a woman pretending to be a man in 19th Century Ireland has some surprising twists and turns in it and some very good performances. Stories like this, both factional and fictional have been around for a long time, “Yentel” being a well-known fictional film. This sort of thing sometimes happens in societies where freedom and economic opportunities are better for men than for women, and that is most of them, really. This has happened in the United States from time to time.
Nobbs (played by Glenn Close of “The Stepford Wives”) is a woman who pretended to be a man out of desperation, but succeeds as a man servant at a hotel, waiting on important social figures. She also manages to save several hundred pounds toward her retirement. Then comes a major problem. She is ordered to share her bed with a man because the hotel is packed. One thing leads to another and her true sex is discovered by her unwanted guest. After begging Hubert, a handyman to keep her secret, Hubert (played by Janet McTeer of “As You Like It”) reveals herself to be a woman who is also pretending to be a man, just as Albert is. Now that is a strange, not entirely believable, twist of fate.
Talking to Hubert, who is married to a woman, Albert sees a whole new world of possibilities open to him. Maybe he can get married and open a small tobacco shop, similar to the arrangement of Hubert and his wife, who have their own sewing shop business. Albert soon sets his sights on a pretty young girl who works at his hotel, Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska of “Jane Eyre”) even though Helen is in love with someone else, Joe Macken (Aaron Johnson of “Kick Ass”) a handsome young handyman who wants to get to America. Joe is a drunkard and a scoundrel who will leave Helen behind. Albert hopes to show Helen and he is the better man, so to speak.
Another major plot twist arrives when Helen becomes pregnant and the city is hit by typhoid fever, which also infects Albert, Hubert's wife and many others. Although this story is essentially a tragedy, there is also a lot of humor in the story. It is light and enjoyable as well as dramatic. Albert is a very likeable character. There really aren't any villains, except for Joe, who turns out to be cruel and manipulative. There is also a nice ending to the film. In addition to starring in this film, Close also co-wrote the screenplay, based on a short story by George Moore, and was a producer of the film. This film rates a B.
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