Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard, Sebastian Koch, Matthias Schoenaerts
Written by: Lucinda Coxon and (based on the novel) David Ebershoff
Running Time: 119 mins
Release date: 1st January 2016
You can tell that it’s awards season once again as we get extremely well made, well acted, well-directed cinematic treats. Some more obviously made to attract voters than others. The Danish Girl is one such film. A fictionalised account of Lili Elbe, formerly Einar Wegener, who, in 1930, took part in a pioneering sex reassignment surgery. While an important and life-changing subject, handed to the director of The King’s Speech and starring last year’s best actor Oscar winner, this should be retitled The Oscar Potential.
Copenhagen, 1926. Struggling artist Gerda Wegener has been painting portraits for years, yet hasn’t found any success in getting her work sold. Her husband, Einar, on the other hand, is a star for those who like landscapes. When waiting for a ballerina to arrive for a sitting, Gerda gets her husband to step in, making him wear the stocking and shoes while draping him in a dress. Something inside Einar is unleashed. As a joke, Gerda decides to take her husband out to a party, dressed as a woman called Lili. What Gerda doesn’t realise is that Einer has found freedom in being the tall red-headed woman he has never felt before and soon the joke starts taking over his life.
Tom Hooper is a very accomplished director whose previous work, Les Miserables, didn’t work because it felt too intimate and closed in, Here his style of directing, extreme close-ups, head shots to one side to capture the art deco in the background, works well. This is a tale about intimacy. About the effects of transgender on a couple, especially in a time where doctors and surgeons looked upon the idea as being schizophrenic, instead of helping, immediately wanting to banish them to an asylum.
With its brooding colours and oft-fuzzy focusing, the film portrays this loving relationship pushed to the boundaries well, capturing the time and period brilliantly with its production design and costume. Not doubting it, the film is delicious to look at.
The cast, an array of international players from Ben Whishaw as a man instantly taken by Lili’s charms, to Matthias Schoenaerts as Einer’s boyhood friend who finds himself longing to help him and falling for his wife, are all nicely drawn characters that work well in the palate. The real focal point lies in the performances of golden boy Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, who continues to be in almost everything at the moment.
Redmayne, who walked away with top prizes last year for playing Stephen Hawkins in The Theory Of Everything, looks like he wants the double, although this time he’s not as strong. True, it’s a brave decision to play such an important character and proves his worth as an actor, yet you can’t help feeling that his reliance on gestures and puppy dog eyes are more caricature than deep-rooted honesty. Don’t get me wrong, he is very good and should be applauded for his performance but when up against his co-star, Ms Vikander, it does look a little hollow.
It is Alicia Vikander’s Gerda who really steals the film. She is magnificent. A woman of beauty who we watch turn from a loving and doting wife to almost self-destruction as the man she loves has decided to go down another path. Her performance is almost heartbreaking, as she decides to stand by her man regardless of the consequences, even if it means losing him forever. It is a stunning turn from an actress who seems to be getting better in every role she plays.
In the end, The Danish Girl is a gloriously stunning film directed with care and attention and yet feels a little too light. It’s as if the makers didn’t want to offend anyone and so it’s played out very safely so not to distant a mainstream audience. The final scene does go for the tear ducts in a very Hollywood-ish manner and it feels somewhat unsatisfactory. Yet it’s still worth seeing, mainly for the two leads, particularly Alicia Vikander and for its beauty. Brave but maybe not brave enough, it might struggle to pick up the awards the film makers so clearly want.