The film received mixed reviews, but the performances by Glenn Close and Janet McTeer were praised; they were nominated for the Academy Award in the categories of Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. They also received Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations. The film was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Makeup.
Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is a butler at the Morrison Hotel in Dublin, Ireland. Born and raised as a girl, Albert has spent the last 30 years living as a man. Albert has been secretly saving money to buy a tobacconist shop to gain some measure of freedom and independence.
Recently unemployed Joe Mackins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) arrives at the hotel and says that he is a boilerman. The maid Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska) is attracted to him, they become lovers, and Joe will show himself to be an alcoholic bully.
Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) is tasked with painting at the hotel, discovers Albert's secret; he reveals that he is keeping the same secret about himself.
Albert visits Hubert at his home and meets Cathleen (Bronagh Gallagher), who lives with him as his wife. Albert tells Hubert the story of his life: born a bastard and then abandoned, Albert was raised by a Mrs Nobbs and educated in a convent before being expelled after Albert's mother died. One night, aged 14 and still with the appearance of a girl, Albert was brutally gang-raped and beaten by a group of men. After hearing there was a need for waiters, Albert bought a suit, was interviewed and was hired, and began his life with a male identity. He reveals that his previous name was Albert.
Believing Helen may be the ideal wife to run a shop with, Albert asks her to 'walk out'. She refuses, but Joe, believing that Albert will give Helen money that could help the pair emigrate to America, encourages her to lead Albert on. She agrees to this approach, allowing Albert to buy her gifts. Helen is uncomfortable with Albert and the arrangement that Joe forced her to make. Albert tells Helen about his plan to buy a shop; she only wants to leave Ireland for America.
There is a typhoid epidemic in Dublin. Some staff fall ill, and the loss of guest causes Mrs Baker concern. Albert becomes infected but recovers; Helen discovers she is pregnant with Joe's child. Joe is terrified, fearing he will become like his abusive father. Albert goes to Hubert's home and learns that Cathleen has died, leaving Hubert devastated. Albert and Hubert wear dresses made by Cathleen and take a stroll on the beach. Though both at first are extremely uncomfortable, they spend the day together dressed as women. Albert smiles as he runs on the sand. But a stumble and fall bring Albert back to reality. The pair return to Hubert's, change back into their men's clothing, and go back to their lives as before.
Back at the hotel, Albert learns Helen is pregnant and offers to marry her. She refuses, saying Albert does not love her, though Albert voices a fear that Joe will leave by himself for America and not take her and the child. Later that evening, when Joe and Helen get into a loud fight. Albert physically attacks Joe when he attempts to hurt Helen in a fit of rage. Albert is thrown against a wall by Joe, sustaining a head injury. Albert retires to bed, bleeding from one ear. Helen finds him dead in the morning.
Following Mr Nobbs' death, Joe goes to America and Helen gives birth to a son, Albert Joseph. Mrs. Baker hires Hubert to make improvements to the hotel. Hubert sees Helen again, who breaks down and reveals that she will be separated from her son and thrown out into the street. Hubert tells her, "We can't let that happen, can we?".Glenn Close as Albert Nobbs
Mia Wasikowska as Helen Dawes
Aaron Johnson as Joe Mackins
Janet McTeer as Hubert Page
Pauline Collins as Mrs. Baker
Brenda Fricker as Polly
Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Viscount Yarrell
Brendan Gleeson as Dr. Holloran
Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mary
Mark Williams as Seán
Serena Brabazon as Mrs. Moore
Michael McElhatton as Mr. Moore
Kenneth Collard as Mr. Pigot
Bronagh Gallagher as Cathleen Page
Antonia Campbell-Hughes as Emmy
Close first played the titular character in a 1982 stage production and spent 15 years trying to turn it into a film. The film almost went into production in the early 2000s, with director István Szabó, but the financing fell apart. In addition to her starring role, Close is also a producer and co-writer with John Banville.
Production was scheduled to begin in July 2010 but was delayed until December, when Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson replaced Amanda Seyfried and Orlando Bloom. Filming commenced on 13 December on location in Dublin and Wicklow. In July 2011, it was announced that Albert Nobbs would screen at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival in September and the first official photos from the film were released.
The film received mixed reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 56%, based on 149 reviews, with an average rating of 6/10. Metacritic gave the film a 57 out of 100, with mixed or average reviews based on reviews from 42 critics.
In the United States, the film had a limited release in December 2011, and opened at 245 locations in January 2012. The film grossed a worldwide total of $5,634,828.