A First Review of The Danish Girl

From clinching awards for the Best Male Actor in a Lead at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, the Academy Awards, and a whole lot more earlier in the year, Eddie Redmayne has definitely had an amazing year so far. Currently filming Harry Potter’s prequel Fantastic Beasts an where to Find Them, the first poster for an earlier work, The Danish Girl, as well as the first trailer has been released.danishgirl1
Directed by Tom Hooper (who directed Les Miserables), The Danish Girl is a biopic based on the lives of artists Einar and Gerda Wegener, whose marriage and work  foray into a journey of the unknown when Einar begins a groundbreaking journey to become one of the world’s first transgender women, Lili Elbe.liliredmayne-xlarge
Premiered on Saturday, the 5th of September, at the Venice Film Festival,  the story  is set in Copenhagen in 1926, six years after Eina (Eddie Redmayne)’s marriage to Gerda (Alicia Vikander). He’s an in-demand landscape painter, while she’s struggling to gain a foothold in the art market with her undistinguished portraits. Things changed however, when Gerda asks Einar to stand in for Ulla (Amber Heard), their ballerina friend and model, who had to cancel. Obliging, he dons on stockings and jeweled slippers with an expression of pleasure to the feel of silk and satin against his skin.
It’s in this early action hammering the point of the Wegeners’ rapturously happy marriage that Hooper’s grasp is uninteresting. There’s plenty of obvious foreshadowing, such as Redmayne distractedly running his fingers over fur and tulle in the wardrobe racks at the ballet. But even if Gerda’s initial encouragement of Einar’s cross-dressing is accurately depicted as a bohemian game, it’s more than a half-hour before even a glimmer of conflict creeps into what seems at first like a frisky romp.danishgirl1-large
The shift occurs when Lili, Einar’s emerging true self, gets a nosebleed after being kissed at a party by persistent suitor Henrik (Ben Whishaw), a transgression witnessed by the previously unflappable Gerda. Despite Henrik getting lumped with some on-the-nose dialogue concerning a conveniently placed oak tree (“They say you can eat its acorns and become anyone you want”), the drama in general acquires more teeth from this point on.
Redmayne is definitely at his best, especially in the climax,  when Einar’s attempts to honor Gerda’s wishes and remove the escalating confusion from their marriage prove futile. Some of the loveliest moments of his performance are when the actor quietly disappears into Lili, with a coy smile, a delicate hand gesture, a studied rearrangement of the drape of her arm or the positioning of her feet on the floor. Later in the film, too, when the couple returns to Copenhagen after a spell in Paris, there’s an understated emotional surge in seeing Lili go to work behind a chic department store perfume counter, radiating happiness at being a woman among other women. And watching Einar, still alternating in outer presentation as Lili, timidly studying sensual female body language in a Paris peepshow is one of the film’s most exquisite and indelible scenes.
There is also a nice portrayal of Gerda beautifully enacted by Vikander, most importantly with her  internal fight to balance her need for the man she married with her deeply compassionate desire to liberate Lili. But the film’s intimate focus on the shifting dualities between Einar and Lili inevitably means that Vikander’s character has less dimension. The same goes for Whishaw’s role and for Matthias Schoenaerts as Hans, Einar’s boyhood friend and early crush, who has since become a wealthy Paris art dealer.
Ultimately, the film’s chief strength is as a vehicle for Redmayne, following his Theory of Everything Oscar win with another full-immersion physical and emotional transformation into a brave real-life figure.
The Danish Girl is scheduled for release on Friday, November 27th, 2015.

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