The Danish Girl

01/01/15

The Danish Girl tells the true story of 1920s landscape artist Einar Wegener, and his transformation into Lili Elbe, the woman he always knew he was supposed to be. Eddie Redmayne stars as the transgender pioneer, but it is Alicia Vikander, as Gerda (Einar’s wife), who really steals the show.

This is a good movie, with a lot of heart. The central relationship and its emotional complexities are explored unflinchingly, and the characters are nuanced and sometimes difficult. Gerda’s bond with Lili is especially dichotomous, as Lili’s emergence serves both to undermine her marriage and elevate her art (Gerda’s portraits of Lili ensure her success as an artist).

It’s beautifully shot: all gorgeous landscape or cityscape, costumes and décor. There isn’t a drab corner in this film, and maybe that’s the reason why it doesn’t quite reach the heights it could; it’s all a little too pretty, even the ugly stuff.

And there is, or should be, a lot of ugly stuff. Lili was one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery – and the consequences were brutal. There need to be some darker elements to make this really clear.

There’s no denying Eddie Redmayne’s skill in depicting both Einar and Lili, but the performance is a little too mannered for my taste. His portrayal of femininity is somewhat overdone: too arch, too simpering, too coy. Maybe this was true of Lili Elbe herself, but it feels a little old-fashioned for a contemporary audience, as if the telling itself has snagged somehow on the very question of gender constructs it purports to explore.

But these are quibbles. It’s an important story, and a very watchable film.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

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