The Danish Girl, set in the 1920’s, tells the story married Einer Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), 2 artists (Einer’s landscapes more popular than Gerder’s portraits) who when asked to fill in for one of Gerder’s models running late, Einer has a sensual awakening when asked to wear some female clothes. Slowly Einer’s identity crisis leads him to believe that he has always been a woman named Lili Elbe and he start’s to question whether this revelation is what is right for what is a strain on his wife and marriage, or whether he should attempt the first ever transgender operation to make the permanent change with great risk.
First off director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech/Les Miserables) presents this story in a gorgeous and beautiful way. Nearly every scene is visually interesting and there is very little wasted space in any shot in and around the story Redmayne and Vikadner are telling. Cinematographer Danny Cohen who has collaborated with Tom Hooper before on those films mentioned (as well as working on This is England) uses a huge variety of colours to complement the different physical visual aesthetics of the locations being used. The camera work is often static with the characters physically acting out the exposition with body language which ends up being quite effective and immersive. The static nature of the shot gives some of the scenes a stage play feel to them with a lot of the locations using wooden floors it gives the viewer a different perspective from the norm.
At the heart of this film it is about Eddie Redmayne’s struggle with the identity of his gender but it is not exclusive to him. In the first act it is Alicia Vikander who’s struggle is with the identity of her work in the large shadow that is cast by her husbands success. It isn’t until she finds Lily as her muse that she can start to grow as a person. At the same time as all the events that are happening there is also a struggle over the identity of the marriage between Einer and Gerder with neither knowing how to deal with each other as Eiger’s slow change into Lili happens. Again you can see Cohen’s creative eye with the persistent use of reflections to show the challenges of identity through both characters. There’s plenty of use of reflections in water, windows and mirrors in scenes that show the characters examining the thought of the conflict they are going through. Finally there is the use of the light shining through the opposite side of the canvas when Gerder accepts what is happening and draws Lily in a moment that validates her to both of them and brings her to life.
Vikander plays Gerder fantastically for the first half of the film with real genuine conviction and sympathy and gives a range I’ve not seen from her before, for the second half of the film she levelled off and while involved in the story doesn’t progress anywhere as much as the first. This is not to the film’s detriment as Redmayne takes over and puts on a performance that makes me think that he’s clearly not happy with winning only one Oscar. He’s cast perfectly as his sleight and slender frame lends itself to the role and he shows the sensuality needed to behave in a way that is completely believable to what you are seeing within the story. When Redmayne was portraying the male he did come across as less convincing and uncomfortable which does lead to having a greater impact later on while he is transforming into Lili and is a testament to his Oscar worthiness.
One complaint that can be levelled at the character of Lili was that for all the time it took to establish her she felt more of a shell and didn’t really have much too her, preferring to concentrate on the relationship with Vikander instead.
For all it’s artistic presence the film is a very safe way to bring a trans-gender story to the mainstream. This can both be a good thing and a bad thing. There will be more films about this subject matter with more depth that will have more relevance to the many people that go through a change in identity and in this The Danish Girl may feel insubstantial to those who know more about the topic. But on the other hand there will be a whole new section of film goers that are now exposed to the subject matter and for better or worse it is presented in an extremely accessible and captivating way.
The subject matter won’t be for everyone and while I didn’t necessarily emotionally connect to it it’s hard not to appreciate what is unfolding in front of you.
A beautiful story told in an elegant and visually interesting way. Standout performances from the leads give the story, while might not be for everyone, an interest and depth that can be highly appreciated if nothing else.