THE DANISH GIRL
Director: Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts Verdict: Lili’s long journey from he to she to me
AS far as titles go, The Danish Girl could be selling itself a little short.
A more accurate handle might have been “The Danish Women”, for the fascinating true(ish) story told here centres on two extraordinary females living in Copenhagen in the late 1920s.
Both are accomplished artists. One is a woman trapped inside the body of a man. The other is a woman married to that same man.
As the film begins, Einar Wegener (played by Eddie Redmayne) is a successful landscape artist living a comfortable, if cloistered existence as one of the leading lights of Copenhagen’s busy art scene. Einar’s wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) is also a painter, but struggling to achieve any level of recognition.
The difference in reputations between the spouses is not a problem. Each is resolutely supportive of the other. The mutual devotion is not confined to their day jobs – Einar and Gerda are very much in love.
This love is destined to be tested beyond all conventional limits of the era when Einar – a secretive figure who prefers to avoid all social interactions wherever possible -– undergoes a radical, yet natural transformation.
Einar has been suppressing a deeply feminine side since childhood, and is unable to hold it back any longer.
A complete new identity bursts forth, at first behind closed doors, and then out in the wider world. Einar Wegener is now Lili Elbe, a kind, sensitive and socially open woman who will definitely not be going back inside her shell.
Where the film comes to be at its most intriguing and involving is how Einar’s rapid transformation into Lili – whom he refers to in the third person – impacts upon his marriage to Gerda.
Though definitely conflicted by the possibility she may lose the man she fell in love with, Gerda remains a sturdy pillar of support, not only for Einar, but Lili too.
In the moving final act of The Danish Girl, the last traces of Einar are fading fast as Lili commits to gender-confirmation surgery. The then-pioneering medical procedures associated with the decision are fraught with dangers both physical and mental.
It must be said that for a movie determined to tell such an unorthodox love story with the potential to open and change minds, The Danish Girl can often play it a little too safe for its own good.
Obviously, the filmmakers felt they may frighten away a portion of a mainstream audience if matters ever became too confronting.
Therefore the wonderfully nuanced and totally believable performances of Redmayne and Vikander are sometimes smothered by the unnecessarily conservative approach in play.