Much has been written about the evaporation of rich and complicated movie roles for actresses of a certain age. This year, though, performances like those of Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady" and Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs" are doing their best to blow that theory to smithereens.
Close (who also co-wrote the screenplay and is up for a Best Actress Oscar) is heartbreaking as a quiet, dutiful woman passing herself off as a male butler at a posh hotel in Dublin circa the 1890s. She sports a short, severe haircut and squeezes herself into a painful corset every day to diminish any clues to her true gender. The work is important and cathartic to her; she's saving up money to buy a tobacco shop and excising her femininity due to a traumatic event in her youth. She seems resigned to live alone in disguise until she meets a spirited house painter known as Mr. Page, who turns out to also be a woman and is indelibly played by Janet McTeer (Best Supporting Actress nominee).
Albert visits Page one day and discovers that she has "married" a woman, and you wonder if the wife is even aware her husband is a woman. Or is it an "M. Butterfly" kind of situation, with the players only revealing and knowing what each party wants to reveal and know? Whatever the details, it opens Nobbs up to the possibility that she, too, could love and be loved, and pursues a young housemaid at the hotel, played by Mia Wasikowska ("Jane Eyre"). The movie is lovingly made, emitting a true sense of the period and a tone that makes the set-up ring true. And in addition to wonderful work from Close and McTeer, the story offers a treasure trove of issues around gender and identity that seems completely contemporary.