The Danish Girl (2016) – Film Review

Title: The Danish Girl

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw, Matthias Schoenaerts, Amber Heard, and Sebastian Kochs

Director: Tom Hooper

Genre: Biography, Drama, Costume Drama, LGBTQIA Film, Historical Drama

Rating: 4/5


In the last couple of years, the LGBTQIA community have had some of their most positive media representation yet. With hit television shows, the-danish-girl-eddie-redmaynemovies, television presenters, media stars and political triumphs under their belt, it seems that the world has finally seemed to turn a corner in acceptance and love of a group of people that was so badly treated and downtrodden for decades.

And through all this, the transgender community has gone from strength to strength with people such as  Laverne Cox, Ian Harvie and Caitlyn Jenner highlighting the issues that so many have pushed under the carpet, and giving all the silent masses a voice in which to be heard by.

But before all this, there was a single woman. A figure of great significance, and a figure that, until now, has only been known by few. And that was Lili Elbe. Artist’s muse, haunting beauty, and born under the name Einar Wegener, Elbe was one of the pioneers of gender reassignment surgery, and remains a cultural icon to the transgender community today. And now, in 2016, Lili’s tale has come to life in a decadent film, directed by the acclaimed Tom Hooper and starring Academy Award -winning Eddie Redmayne and Golden Globe nominee Alicia Vikander.

At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Einar and Gerda Wegener. Depicted as a bohemian and happily married couple living in Copenhagen in the early 1900s, the couple both worked as artists, but originally at different levels of success. Whilst Einar was highly successful in his paintings of bleak landscapes, Gerda was struggling to get people to notice her portraits. And it is one of these portrait sittings where Einar’s life seems to have a revolutionary and remarkable turning point. When the Wegener’s mutual friend, a beautiful ballet dancer a711955211nd socialite Ulla (portrayed by Amber Heard) fails to turn up for her sitting, Gerda persuades Einar to step in and wear stockings and ballet shoes to give Gerda a point of reference. It is then the audience notices that Einar changes. It’s both a visible and emotional realisation for Einar, and maybe one he had never experienced before.

And following this turning point, the audience witnesses the blossoming of Lili through Einar, and how, despite initially Lili becomes a welcome muse for Gerda, the transition of Einar-to-Lili fully becomes a source of tension and ultimately a breakdown of marriage between the Wegener’s.The rest of the film then shows Lili deciding to go ahead with the pioneering surgery. And it is then we witness one of the most perfectly spoken lines of script in the film. Whilst speaking to her doctor, Lili says in a nervous manner, ‘I believe I am a woman’, and Gerda follows up, in a calm and assured voice ‘I believe it too’. To me, this acknowledgement of Gerda’s is one of the most positive reactions. In agreeing with Lili, Gerda shuts the door on Einar, and lets Lili become the woman she always wanted to be. And it was really one of those catch-in-the-throat moments that makes you fall further in love with Gerda.

The acting in this film is superb in my opinion. I realise there has been strife over the fact that Hooper did cast a cisgender man to play a transgender role, as well as blatant historical inaccuracies, but to me, I felt Redmayne played the part of Lili and Einar equally well.

In Einar, we saw a sensitive, caring husband whose struggles with his true self are shown to be both heart-wrenching and completely painful at time, and with Lili we see a shy and initially retiring woman who does rise from the ashes, and just wants to live her life as the woman she can has danishgirl1-xlargefinally become. What I did love about Redmayne’s performance was the obvious soul searching he does as Einar to become Lili. He spends a lot of time perfecting how he thinks a woman should move, how she sits and gestures with her hands, and also just how to be, subconsciously. There is pain when there needs to be, and there is also glee and realisation. And, as Golden Globe and Oscar season approaches, I would not be surprised if we see nominations and awards left right and centre.

But for me, it was Vikander who brought the house down. Before this, I hadn’t seen Vikander in much. But in this film she blew me away. She plays the feisty Gerda in such a dazzling manner. She’s flirty, outrageous, daring and loving at the beginning of the film, and as she watches her husband disappear and Lili to come to prominance, we see her lose some of her old self and seem to grow up in a way. She shows grief, dismay and anger for ‘the loss’ of Einar, but then support and resilience in living and supporting Lili. Without realising it, she even helps Einar make Lili the woman she wants to be, as in a touching montage, she is shown how a woman should walk, what clothes to wear and how to move. Vikander’s Gerda was always there as a pillar of support, and we do feel sympathy for her marriage breakdown, but also admiration for her strength.

The movie was also decadent in its filming and taste. With beautiful costuming, backdrop, visual effects and filming, the film is typical of Hooper’s lush and almost costume drama-y touch. But sometimes it felt as though the backdrops did distract from the actual action.

But all in all, I was thoroughly impressed with this film. Yes, sometimes it did feel slightly costume drama, and unlike Hopper’s brilliant The King’s Speech, there was moments when the drama did fall slightly short. But Redmayne’s acting, along with the force-to-be-reckoned-with Vikander more than made up for it. All in all, a movie to see.

But what do you think? What were your thoughts on a cisgender man playing such an iconic transgender role? Does Vikander deserve an Academy Award? Let me know in the comments.

The Danish Girl is out now.

The Amazing Book is Not on Fire by Dan and Phil – Book Review

Title: The Amazing Book is Not on Fire

Author: Dan Howell and Phil Lester

Rating: 4/5

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, YouTuber World, Online Presence, Social Media, Celebrity Culture, Arts and Entertainment, Popular Culture


‘This book is us taking our favourite parts from that swirling universe on the internet and trapping it in something physical. Something we can hold and touch and keep in our houses, so that long into the future we can all look back and remember who these Dan and Phil guys were and what they did.’

In the past couple of years, the culture of YouTube has properly exploded into the public consciousness, and made the successful and popular YouTubers into sort of mini-celebrities. And from this, these YouTubers have been able to release all different types of merchandise – such as clothing lines, makeup collections and even short films. But there is one thing that the majority of these vloggers have done, and that is to release books.
So, whether they be self-help, fictional, lifestyle or even graphic novels, these books constantly hit the top of the bestseller charts, and make the YouTubers grow in popularity. And that is no different when I bought and read ‘The Amazing Book is Not on Fire’ by Dan (danisnotonfire) Howell and Phil (AmazingPhil) Lester.
Now, with a joint audience of over 10 million subscribers, as well as a highly succesful Radio 1 show, flatmates and best friends Dan and Phil both have their own, independent channels, but frequently collaborate together. So it made sense that when the chance to release a book came around, they decided to chronicle their world together. And with over 220 coloured, and highly detailed pages, The Amazing Book is Not on Fire or TABINOF is a good companion to fans of either YouTuber.

The book follows Dan and Phil through their entire lives, starting from birth through to finishing in the last year or so. With interviews, behind-the-scene photos, rambling stories, diary extracts, stories from their YouTube endeavours, drawings of their old apartments, quizzes, anecdotes, pictures, doodles, fanfiction entries, and even a second dedicated to their Sims character, this book really is a smorgasbord of goodies that will make any fan of the two vloggers devour eagerly. This book also has really interesting sections about how to become a YouTuber, and delivers handy hints for any aspiring creators, as well as being visually well-thought out, and designed in a way that will appeal to all ages. As Dan and Phil have fans that range from young teens to older people, this book isn’t offensive, nor does it act like it is serious. It is simply, as the front page states it to be, ‘The World of Dan and Phil’. One of my favourite sections were the University experiences, as it is well-documented that Dan dropped out, but it was interesting to read about Phil’s experiences and how he went on to get a Masters. I also enjoyed the Japanese section of the book. and the apartment tours.

What I liked about this book is that it really can be read at different times, and you can start at different points. With no strict order, this book isn’t confusing or challenging, and I appreciate that as a older viewer of both Dan and Phil, I can see how younger fans may enjoy and take from it. It also isn’t repetitive, and there is a plenty of variety, and you can tell a lot of thought has gone into it. This really is a perfect companion to Dan and Phil’s video, as it has a equal balance between both vloggers and both channel contents, as well as having their joint work chronicled. With little side stories, such as ‘What Happened in Vegas’ and ‘The Time We Met One Direction’, this books fills in some of the blanks that have been left on Dan and Phil’s channels, and really makes you get into their world without seeming too boring, or too same-y.

I must say that this book is strictly for die-hard and pretty intense fans of Dan and Phil. I have watched both of them for years, and received the book as a gift, and to me, this book was something that I found interesting, but may have not bought it for myself. Despite liking both their channels, I didn’t really need to go into their world in such a way. So, be warned. You will have to know a lot about Dan and Phil to really appreciate this book in its entirety. I also think this book was directed towards a younger audience, as the whole feel of the book gave off that impression. It wasn’t hard-hitting, it wasn’t intense, and it wasn’t shocking. It was just sweet, fairly cool and very much ‘Dan-and-Phil’. But as a gift for a younger fan, I would think it would be the ideal present.

So, yes. I found The Amazing Book is Not on Fire to be exactly what it was promised to be. A good companion to the highly successful duo that is Dan and Phil, a guide to their world, and just a good, easy book to read or gift to somebody.

But please, let me know if you’ve read the book, and whether you like it!

Links:

To buy the book – Amazon/Waterstones

To subscribe to Dan – Click Here

To subscribe to Phil – Click Here

The Dan and Phil Shop – Click Here

Instrumental by James Rhodes – Book Review.

Title: Instrumental

Author: James Rhodes

Rating: 4/5

Genre: Memoir, Autobiography, Musician Autobiography, Social and Health Issues, Survivor Literature.


“So I looked for distractions. I looked for a way out that didn’t involve homicide or suicide. And all roads led to music. They always do.”

The first time I heard James Rhodes, I was doing a late night trawl through YouTube, and stumbled upon him playing Greig’s ‘In The Hall of the Mountain King’. How I got here, I’m unsure of. And what happened after the 2 minute 15 seconds were over, I’m not sure of either. I just knew that I had found a musician that was going to become my favourite.

Now, one thing to know about me, is that I love classical music. I grew up with my grandparents constantly having Beethoven playing, and now, listening to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, I am transported back to being a little girl again and dancing around the living room, pretending to be Sleeping Beauty or Odette. My iPod has equal amounts of Ravel and Mozart against Lana Del Ray and David Bowie, and I frequently find myself tuning into Bach on train journey’s. But in my opinion, breaking into this industry as a young fan can be met with snobbery and disbelief that you’d rather be listening to Rachmaninoff rather than Rihanna. So, when I found this pianist, who wears trainers and t-shirts on stage, swears and gives the audience little insights to the composer’s life, and then goes onto to play such electric music, I was instantly hooked.

And this year, for the second time, I’ll be seeing Rhodes play. And excitement doesn’t really begin to explain my sheer anticipation for this event.

But when I heard his was writing an autobiography, I knew I’d have to have it, devour it, reread it and just learn from it. Because like the composers he talks about, Rhodes’ life has been a rollercoaster of staggering lows, and extreme highs. And in this memoir, he talks how music literally saved his life.

Starting from Rhodes as being a, as he describes himself, ‘a dancing, spinning, gigglingly alive kid who was enjoying the safety and adventure of a new school’, the author reveals that, through an after-school boxing club, he was repeatedly raped and abused by his PE teacher, a man named Peter Lee, for years. Now, not only does this harrowing account tug at the heartstrings of everyone reading it, Rhodes also gives the reader the straightforward fact that issues that surrounded the rape, such as multiple surgeries, scars that are both physical and mental, a host of depression and other mental illnesses and later on, significant drink, self-harm and drug problems, have plagued him through his life, destroyed relationships that he had, been the reason for numerous admissions to various psychiatric hospitals and centres around the world.

Image courtesy of Amazon.com

So, this is a pretty brutal read. There is no way to flip it around. This novel could be considered too upsetting and harmful for some people, and Rhodes acknowledges that within the first few pages, and also gives trigger warnings when he can. Now, this addition was something that I found particularly clever and meaningful. A lot of books don’t do this, and a lot of people can be caught out unawares. So, kudos there. And as a memoir, it doesn’t hide anything behind a curtain of shame. His story is black-and-white, out there, and for you as the reader to digest as its gritty self. Rhodes writes about having friendships, being in love, being a father, getting divorced, re-finding love and ultimately having undying love for his son and his now-wife Hattie.

But alongside the memoir, this is a love letter to classical musical. Rhodes writes about how music inspired him, saved him and started to help him become whole again. And through a friend smuggling an iPod into him whilst Rhodes was in hospital, rediscovering the piano and the constant companion of Bach’s Chaconne, the deep scars inflicted on him start to knit together. At the beginning of each chapter, there is a piece of corresponding music that relates to the next few pages, and Rhodes gives the reader a short introduction to the composer and who they were, which I found to be one of my favourite parts of the books. Also, as all the pieces are available to stream and listen too, you get taken on a journey through the music itself, as well as the book. Rhodes also spends a lot of time addressing how stereotyped and warped the genre of classical musical has become, and how, by big labels and the music industry of today, how damaging they can be towards the progression of classical music as a reputable and popular genre. As, as a reader who doesn’t know much about the music industry, it was interesting to hear it from an actual musician who has an insider’s perspective.

Now, in actual publication sense, Instrumental almost didn’t see the light of day, as a vicious court battle ensued before release between Rhodes and his ex-wife, over a ban being slapped on it as, allegedly, the content could cause psychological damage to their son. But, in a Supreme Court hearing overturning the ban, this has not only garnered up mass support and media interest for the book, but also on how freedom of speech is accepted in modern-day society.

So, to sum up, in my opinion, this is an incredibly important book. Yes, it’s not the best written, and sometimes it goes on tangents, but the reader gets instantly sucked into the world of music, madness and medication. It gives Rhodes a voice to properly tell his story, and it sheds light on the sometimes forgotten world of classical music. And through his words and through the Supreme Court hearing, it may just be that book that could offer support and help for anyone suffering in the way that Rhodes did. So, please. Go and buy it. And sit down with some good headphones and a copy of Beethoven’s Symphonies.

Photograph: Susannah Ireland/Rex Features

Links:

To buy the book – Waterstones/Amazon.

James Rhodes’ Website – Click here.

The Supreme Court Hearing – Click here