Three decades have passed since Glenn Close first played the cross-dressing butler Albert Nobbs in an off-Broadway play (based on a novella) and it's a role that clearly got under her skin. She co-wrote and produced this big screen version which also earned her an Oscar nod for 'Best Actress'.
Immediately, this very placid-seeming character draws you in, the same way an oil painting might catch your eye because it's slightly askew. That's because Close is such a recognisable star and seeing her in men's clothing is at odds with the traditional backdrop of 19th century Dublin.
Evidently, Nobbs has worked at the Morrison's Hotel for so many years that she has become part of the wallpaper. No one looks twice at her, but there are hints of other 'deviant' behaviour going on upstairs with Jonathan Rhys Myers playing a Viscount who comes to stay with a male guest.
Nobbs turns her nose up at such things and is clearly repressed in many ways. But she is forced out of her binds one night (literally, the strapping that keeps her chest flat) while sharing her bed with a burly painter-decorator called Hubert. It turns out that he is also a she, played by Janet McTeer.
Like the Viscount, Hubert also shows how Nobbs sets herself apart from other minorities. Hubert is a lesbian, but Nobbs confesses to her a different motivation for wanting to live as a man. She has been victimised and apart from needing to make a living, she feels less vulnerable in men's clothes.
Still, Nobb's account offers limited insight into a drastic lifestyle choice. Inspired by Hubert, she tries to woo the maid Helen (a brilliantly shaded turn by Mia Wasikowska), but becomes so fixated that she risks being thumped by Helen's boyfriend Joe (a typically mean and moody Aaron Johnson).
Is it love that drives Nobbs, or a desire for independence? Initially, it seems like that latter. Nobbs is counting money for the purchase of her own tobacco shop and sees Helen as an ideal partner for the enterprise. But things quickly get personal, especially because Joe doesn't treat her well.
But, if this is love: is it maternal or romantic? It remains unclear and that may be because Nobbs is herself confused about her feelings. Whatever the case she remains a subject of curiosity, just as she was at the start and the final scenes are only saddening instead of heart-breaking.
It's an intriguing portrait and Close gives a memorable turn of childish innocence in middle age. Even so, in the end, most viewers will perhaps better identify with Brendan Gleeson in a small role as the doctor, echoing a question from earlier on: "What makes people lead such miserable lives?"