This tale has been a labour of love for Glenn Close for 30 years. She played the title role on stage in 1982 and now finally brings it to the screen – and a most entertaining escapade it is too. Now in her mid 60s she looks odd but fascinating masquerading as a man in 19th century Ireland. Her raspy voice and buttoned up demeanour certainly convince her fellow staff at the hotel the character is now employed at. The servants all treat her with respect, and her professionalism in her waiter duties draw appreciation from the regular guests. But Mr Nobbs aches for love and to be set free.
Because the character is so repressed all the way through, we never get a chance to fully sympathise with her and invest in her dilemma. Close plays the role impeccably but she never comes across as fully real. We are drawn more to the two characters that shake up Nobbs' world. Wasikowska is the servant girl that he/she falls for, and this gifted young actress imbues her with just the right amount of unforced sweetness and intelligence. She exploits Nobbs for gifts that she can share with her lover, an uncouth wastrel deftly played by Johnson. But the standout turn comes from McTeer as a decorator, also pretending to be man, who is hired for a few days work at the hotel. Upon discovering that Nobbs is male she registers a sly and amusing knowingness that is delightful to watch. In the scenes with her lover when Nobbs comes to visit, McTeer is the butch half of the lesbian couple, but not aggressively so. The maleness she emanates is not overdone. It's a wonderful performance in all and a great shame that's it's been overlooked in some quarters.
As has the movie itself. While it certainly strains credibility it is however a most beautifully delivered affair that is funny, touching and rewarding. The fine cast are all first rate, including sterling support from Collins and Gleason. Production values are top notch and the script well written, the pacing never frantic nor cautious. It's a tender effort done with class and care. Thoroughly enjoyable and warmly recommended.