Loosely based on the lives of artists Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) The Danish Girl should really have been called The Danish Girls. Because while Redmayne’s Einar come Lili is the focus of this transgender dramatic romance Gerda’s importance to the story is far from secondary.
Happily married painters Einar and Gerda spend their lives wining and painting while hoping for a baby. But when one of Gerda’s subjects fails to arrive for a modelling session she asks her husband to don the outfit in her place. In that moment Einar reignites a feeling that he has not felt since he was a young boy. In that moment Lili is born. At first Gerda plays along, actively encouraging her husband to revel in his female alterego. But when they both realise that Einar is having a crisis of identity it becomes apparent to them that he can only find happiness if he truly becomes Lili.
Between Les Miserables and The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper has repeatedly demonstrated himself as a director most comfortable in telling character driven stories. The Danish Girl is no exception, a positively delicate and often sumptuous story that unfolds at its own leisurely pace. That pace is, like Lili herself, often self-indulgent. The middle-section seeming to lag at a point when it should be soaring. Part of this is the instance to sideline Gerda’s burgeoning romance with Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), almost as if, like Gerda herself, the filmmakers felt in some way guilty for betraying Lili.
But, as has been the case with his most successful films, Hooper’s secret weapon is his director of photography Danny Cohen. Because behind all the glamorous dresses, behind all the drama, the anguish and the hurt Cohen has taken Einar and Gerda’s artistic flair and brought it to vibrant life. From the sprawling vistas of Denmark to the intimate, soft-lit world Lili and Gerda inhabit it’s a feast for the eyes from beginning to end.
In the central role Eddie Redmayne continues his trend of being able to somehow use his entire body to perform. As Einar he is always awkward, endlessly effeminate to begin with but with a jovial nature. But as his transforms so Lili begins to take pride of place, her confidence, despite sailing in the face of adversity, is what inspires Gerda so much. As with The Theory Of Everything Redmayne is able to convey incredibly amounts of emotion through the most simple of gestures and movements.
But it is Alicia Vikander who really takes the plaudits here. Her Gerda is the beating heart and soul of the piece. A fiercely proud and affectionate woman. Early on she allows Einar the luxury of being Lili, in fact she is in no small part responsible for it. But when she first realises Einar’s interest in becoming Lili she doesn’t shy from it, even when it hurts her the most she wants Lili to be happy, to blossom into the woman she knows she can become. It is through Vikander that The Danish Girl takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions. She never judges but when she pines for her husband, even the smallest hint of him, your heart breaks that Lili refuses to help Gerda the way she has helped her.
An incredibly topical story given the rise in the transgender movement The Danish Girl though is made great by a woman standing by her partner, no matter what.
The Danish Girl is out on Blu-ray and DVD from 16th May.