Tom Hooper’s Danish Girl retells the story of painter Einar Wegener, who underwent a pioneering gender reassignment operation in the 1930s to become Lili Elbe.
Eddie Redmayne deservedly won the Academy Award for last year’s excellent portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Tackling another biopic, the actor is respectful and carries his performance with a fluid grace and delicacy. He is lovely in this film, addressing the physical duality of Einar/Lili. Unfortunately for Redmayne, and not entirely through any fault of his own, there is so much emphasis on gesturing and looking like a woman, that some of his performance seems more style than substance. Einar’s affecting struggle to recognize his true self – Lili – is glossed over to move quickly to the gender reassignment surgery – which is almost serves as a means to an anti-climactic end.
The story is as much Gerda’s as Einar/Lili’s – Gerda struggles to understand and cope with what is effectually, the loss of her husband. Gerda could have been relegated as a background player, lost to an understated role next to Lili’s astonishing physical transformation – but Alicia Vikander manages a balancing act, conveying confusion, anger and even discomfort in response to Lili’s emerging identity, while also showing committed affection to her husband. Vikander is glorious and deserving of all of the praise coming her way. She has cemented herself as an exciting and powerful presence having delivered one of my favorite performances of 2015 as AVA in Ex Machina, and holds her own in The Danish Girl.
Alexandre Desplat’s score and cinematographer Danny Cohen’s painterly images complement the performances. The supporting cast flits in and out of the lives of Lili and Gerda without much impact – which seemed such as waste (especially with talented supporting cast such as Matthias Schoenaerts and Ben Whishaw) – as Lili’s reintroduction to friends and family would have been incredibly interesting to witness.
The film is a true representation of Oscar-bait – which doesn’t diminish the solid performances, lovely cinematography or wonderful score – but it is ultimately too safe and diluted with biopic clichés. As The Danish Girl paints across many pretty surfaces, it rarely reveals anything beneath them – an excessively polite still-life instead of a moving picture.