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
In the last couple of years, the LGBTQIA community have had some of their most positive media representation yet. With hit television shows, movies, 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 and 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 finally 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.