It’s taken three decades for actress and co-writer Glenn Close to bring this pet project to cinemas – she first played the title character in the theatre in 1982, and it’s been a rocky road from stage to screen. It’s not hard to see why: this resolutely downbeat story, which follows gender-bending butler Albert in her faltering attempts to navigate the world of Dublin polite society without being discovered, is hardly a crowd pleaser.
Close and her co-author novelist John Banville attempt to satisfy the ‘Downton’ crowd with a spot of upstairs-downstairs shenanigans and some doomed teen romance between boozy hired hand Aaron Johnson and starry-eyed maid Mia Wasikowska. But the focus is firmly on Albert and her suffering – and although temporary reprieve arrives in the form of fellow draggist Hubert (British actress Janet McTeer), such happiness is inevitably fleeting.
Close and McTeer richly deserved their Oscar acting nods, and the film is steeped in facinating period detail – but there’s precious little to enjoy. The grim, grey-hued result is about as far from contemporary drag chic as it’s possible to get – appropriate for the subject matter, perhaps, but hardly the stuff of satisfying cinema.