Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard
Plot: Einar Wegener (Redmayne) and wife, Gerda (Vikander) are both painters. When Gerda asks her husband to pose in a dress for a portrait, she opens up a life-changing fascination in her husband which pulls apart their marriage.
One look at Tom Hooper’s impressive backlog will let you know the kind of film The Danish Girl is going to be. The man behind inspiration true story, the King’s Speech, and musical extraordinaire Les Miserables – he has built his career on diving into the past and providing lavish insights into the period of the time. However, the Danish Girl’s strength lies in the fact that, while the 1920s backdrop is wonderfully recreated, the setting or period only slightly matters. The central story, a man crippled with the belief that he is a woman trapped in a male body, is painfully relevant today. While the true story of Einar Wegener is a worthy subject of any film, you feel that Hooper’s main reason for focusing on this particular case study is to highlight the fact that the world’s opinion of transsexuality hasn’t progressed as far as one might hope it would.
Eddie Redmayne appears to be the number one candidate for tricky roles that few actors would put themselves forwards for. His recent filmography has been one that isn’t afraid to flirt with the risqué. His characterisation of Stephen Hawkins could have been a horribly misfired caricature if the film failed to truly reflect the biography of the man’s life in an appropriate manner. And even when starring in blockbuster movie, Fantastic Beasts, Redmayne added a subtextual reading that Newt Scamander might have some learning difficulties. He is an actor that seems to invite controversy. Therefore, it is no surprise to see him as the chosen man to head this film about a Danish painter who started dressing up like a woman. While we have to sacrifice an authentic Danish accent (somewhere along the way, someone gave up and just let Redmayne be English), Redmayne handles the performance with finesse. He throws himself into the role of a feminine man, yet making sure that he never drags Hooper’s film into the realms of stereotype, or worse, comedy. It must have been a similar issue with Hawkins – it is so easy to smirk or feel offended at someone pretending to be disabled or dressing up as a woman; the pressure on Redmayne both times must have been horrendous. The script helps Redmayne handle the worst of the problems. We slip into the cross-dressing slowly with Einar being bullied into wearing a dress in order to help his wife finish a painting to the couple getting their kicks from the fact that Einar wears a dress underneath his suit. Hooper’s film is quite fun when both Redmayne and Vikander are curing boredom by creating a female persona for Einar. Vikander’s Gerda sees it as a bit of fun, adding some spice to their marriage, but Redmayne’s face enjoys the proceedings a bit too much. His hand caresses the silk with longing, he begins to dress up when his wife isn’t around… the descent into him becoming Lili is gradual. Redmayne focuses, as he did with Hawkins, on finding the man behind the appearances. Einar isn’t just a transsexual, but a loving husband, a friend anxious that he is betraying his loved ones and a person who is losing his grip on identity. At times, Einar is actually quite hard to emphasise with, but Redmayne holds onto that concept that the character is a tragic lost soul, so we never can bring ourselves to put too much hate onto the character.
Sounds like it is an open-and-shut case of Best Actor award. However, it is Alicia Vikander who walked away from this movie with the OSCAR in her hands and she is definitely the MVP of the movie. The Danish Girl’s biggest surprise is how Hooper’s focus is not entirely on Einar, but his long-suffering wife. Most biopics about an esteemed male hero have that ‘wife figure’, usually given to a top female actress, but she is often trapped playing second fiddle to a show-stealing lead actor. It is an important role, but one that often struggles to escape from the routine. Vikander is, without a doubt, phenomenal, one of the top actresses of our time. And, in many ways, her character is the more interesting one. Vikander has several juicy character beats to play around with. For one, she could partially blame herself for setting her husband on this path, when she encouraged him to dress up as a woman for her own amusement. For another, she has the loyalty to stick by her husband, a fact that becomes so much harder when Einar announces that he is no longer that man, but Lili. At times, Einar isn’t difficult to be around because of his transsexual nature, but the fact that he is quite a selfish individual. Vikander is struggling to make a career as a painter, a task that is much harder when Einar’s search for himself/herself begins to monopolise her entire life. Vikander’s Gerda makes some rash decisions in this film, but the actress makes sure that the audience take her side or, at the very least, understand where she is coming from. Hooper also finds the outside perspective as the best way to view Einar and the subject of transsexuality. Both Gerda and the audience are an observer to this tale and, while both her and us come closer to any at understanding the character that was both Einar and Lili, did we ever really come close to knowing who they were?
Final Verdict: Hooper’s latest film is a joy to behold, an interesting portrayal of transsexuality, anchored by a marvellous Redmayne and an even better Vikander.