UK Release Date: 1st January 2016
Runtime: 119 minutes
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: Lucinda Coxon
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard, Sebastian Koch
Synopsis: A Danish painter, born a man, begins to embrace her true personality as she becomes a pioneer of gender reassignment surgery.
Few films have caused more discussion with their first publicity still than The Danish Girl did with its first image of Eddie Redmayne as trans pioneer Lili Elbe. After months of controversy and scrutiny by the trans community, the film itself has finally arrived, with a wave of awards season attention at its back. It’s something of a glossy disappointment.
Einar Wegener (Redmayne) is a Danish painter, married to fellow artist Gerda (Alicia Vikander). When standing in for one of Gerda’s female models, Wegener unmasks transgender feelings that later spur her to embrace the identity of Lili Elbe, undergoing experimental surgery at the hands of Dr Warnekros (Sebastian Koch) to become a woman.
After all of the controversy, it’s shocking just how safely The Danish Girl plays out. Its subject matter couldn’t be more timely, and yet, the film seems reluctant to break free of the basic structure of a historical drama, couched in the kind of historical gloss that has Academy voters frantically filling in their ballot papers. It seems more preoccupied with securing statuettes than in doing justice to the struggle of its central characters.
| “I love you, because you are the only person who made sense of me and made me possible.”
The issue comes to the fore in Tom Hooper’s direction, which has almost no subtlety. He seems more interested in pointing his camera at lavish interiors than in exploring his protagonist, framing Lili’s inner struggle as a mere series of longing looks at blouses and dresses.
Hooper does, however, triumph in securing two tremendous performances from his central actors. Eddie Redmayne, completing another fascinating physical transformation after last year’s Oscar-winning The Theory of Everything, is wonderful in his mannerisms and brings an impressive wide-eyed innocence to Lili. Alicia Vikander steals the movie from under him, though, with Gerda shouldering a lot of the film’s emotional lifting. Vikander has had a remarkable year and The Danish Girl contains perhaps her most complete performance, elevating the film whenever she appears.
Unfortunately, Vikander and Redmayne are saddled with a script packed with clichés and clunking awkwardness. Given the dark realities faced by many transgender people today, it’s jarring to see Lili Elbe’s struggle being rendered in a way so clearly designed to be palatable for the average cinemagoer. Everything about The Danish Girl feels artificial, particularly as it winds achingly slowly towards the inevitable climax.
| “I think Lily’s thoughts. I dream her dreams. She was always there.”
The Danish Girl should’ve been an interesting prestige picture with a very timely context for its story. However, leaden pacing and a tendency towards schmaltz over substance really let it down. By the time the credits rolled, the film had totally outstayed its welcome and proved all of its detractors right.
Pop or Poop?
It seems bizarre that a year of such controversy could have been sustained around a film as deliberately inoffensive as The Danish Girl. The film takes no risks and does a disservice to its interesting story.
Redmayne and Vikander give stellar performances, but the entire package is wrapped in stilted dialogue and direction that is given a very cynical awards season glow.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.