The Danish Girl tells the story of Einar Wegener, a moderately successful Danish landscape artist in the mid-1920s, who would go on to become Lili Elbe, the world’s first surgically-altered transwoman (There may possibly have been someone earlier than this, although it’s generally accepted that Lili Elbe is the first widely-known transwoman to go through what is usually termed ‘sex reassignment surgery’).
Attached to this film is the tagline “Inspired by a True Story”, and earlier this year I mentioned my distaste at the phrase “Inspired by True Events” – however, in this case, the finished product shown on the screen mirrors what occurred in real life in the 1920s and early 1930s extremely well. The film stars British actor Eddie Redmayne (currently the Best Actor Oscar holder for his role as Stephen Hawking in last year’s The Theory of Everything) and Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (generally unknown in American/British cinema, although this is her 3rd major movie this year after the sci-fi flick Ex Machina and the lacklustre The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and is directed by Brit Tom Hooper (famous for his films The King’s Speech and Les Misèrables, and the excellent mini-series John Adams).
This film blew me away. The plot is riveting. Even though I knew where the story would ultimately end up, the path taken is one you simply cannot look away from on and have no idea where exactly it’s going to go next. The performances by the two leads are exceptional. Redmayne shows once again why he’s currently at the very top of his acting game in his role of Einer/Lili and you truly believe he is a tormented soul discovering his true self after a series of chance events started Einar on his eventual path to self-awareness and fulfillment as Lili. Of his absolute equal on screen is Vikander as Einar’s wife Gerda. A painter herself, her courage and eventual acceptance of her husband’s transformation into Lili is amazing to watch on screen. She may be young in years but Alicia Vikander has absolutely earmarked herself as an actress to watch with interest in the ensuing years ahead. And Tom Hooper shows once more he (to me) is Britain’s current #1 Director. He has produced a masterpiece in this film – as simple as that! In addition, the sets, costume design and the absolute attention to detail on display were amazing. A testament to all of these points above was that a number of audience members applauded at the end of the movie.
If you make the wise choice to see this film, you will be rewarded with an outstanding drama from a brilliant director, with excellent performances from the two leads, that will challenge what you believe in terms of what you think you know about gender identity, sexuality, relationships, compassion, honesty, integrity, courage – and just how far we’ve come from the extremely questionable medical practices of the first quarter of the 20th Century; and just how far we still have to go in fully understanding people like the incredible Lili Elbe.
I highly recommend this film.
PS. Oscars I think are sure to come this film’s way. The Best Actor Oscar category may get crowded given I’ve already said that Matt Damon (for The Martian) and Tom Hanks (for Bridge of Spies) will also be vying for that award. Redmayne is sure to join them with this performance.
Reviewed by David Emms