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The Boston Globe

Arts

MOVIE REVIEW

‘Albert Nobbs’: trying to have it both ways

Actress manfully portrays a buttoned-up butler in Edwardian-era ‘Albert Nobbs’

As the title character in “Albert Nobbs,’’ Glenn Close skulks through Edwardian-era Dublin like a eunuch on a stealth mission. Albert works as a butler at a hotel catering to the privileged classes, and he’s the servant you never notice: dependable, discreet, invisible. The other employees of Morrison’s have passions and disordered lives, but Albert takes pains to have no personality whatsoever. He is duty, and nothing else.

To call attention to himself, of course, would be to risk the discovery that he is actually a she. Based on a short story by George Moore and adapted for the screen by Close and John Banville, “Albert Nobbs’’ treats its cross-dressing heroine with reverent curiosity. How did “Albert’’ get this way and why does she continue the imposture? We eventually find out, but the character’s traumatic history is almost beside the point. The drama lies in the way forward, as Albert takes tentative steps toward having a life of his, or her, own.

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