THE DAN­ISH GIRL

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - WEEK IN MOVIES -

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.

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