The Danish Girl

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Release date: 1st January 2016/Watch the trailer here

The Danish Girl is, in a word, beautiful. It is a beautiful story, filmed in beautiful Denmark, with two beautiful leads: Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne (a controversial choice, perhaps – but more on that later). It’s a fictionalised take on the story of the real-life artists, Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe and Gerda Gottlieb. The film’s main focus is the love story between Einar/Lili and Gerda, and how their relationship evolves as Einar undergoes one of the first recorded gender reassignment surgeries.

The decision to make the love story – and, predominantly, how Gerda struggles to come to terms with her husband’s decision – the film’s focus is one that can perhaps be criticised. Is it right that the biggest concern of The Danish Girl is not so much the wellbeing of Lili, but instead, how Gerda feels about her? It’s 2016, and the spotlight is well and truly on trans stories, which is wonderful – but should we be presenting these stories as a problem to be solved?

Another controversial factor of The Danish Girl is the casting of cisgender Eddie Redmayne to portray Lili. There is much to be said for Redmayne – he is a talented actor, still riding on the wave of the success of his Oscar-winning performance in The Theory Of Everything. More than anything else, however, I think the casting of Redmayne says a lot about Hollywood and its poor acknowledgement of trans actors. There are undoubtedly plenty of excellent trans actors out there, but they are not treated in the same way as cisgender actors. As far as I’m aware, no transgender actors were even auditioned for the role of Lili. The argument will be that a known actor whose name carries ‘star appeal’ such as Eddie Redmayne was cast because an unknown trans actor in the lead role wouldn’t be as commercially successful (as if The Danish Girl was ever going to break box office records, anyway). Try harder, Hollywood.

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But enough talk of what could have been, or what should have been. The Danish Girl has plenty to be said for it, and it is a sumptuous way to while away a couple of hours among its splendid 1920s costumes and stunning European landscapes.

Much of The Danish Girl‘s praise has been lauded upon the performances given by Redmayne and Vikander, and deservedly so. Vikander, in particular, is a joy to behold, giving a breathless, exhilarating, emotionally-wrought performance as Gerda. Redmayne, too, is wonderful, of course – but could he not have found a way to portray Lili other than nervous smiles and the constant fluttering of his eyelashes? It’s all a little two-dimensional for such a three-dimensional, wholly interesting character.

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The Danish Girl is a film about two artists. It makes sense, then, that the film itself is a piece of art; beautiful to behold. There’s also something about The Danish Girl that is strangely, bizarrely, jarringly… intimate. Not in a good way. There were times when I felt like I shouldn’t be watching this film. Not because the subject matter made me in any way uncomfortable, but because I felt like I was watching something that was very private. I felt like I had opened a stranger’s diary and was reading their most personal confessions.

In hindsight, perhaps this was the intention. Given the story and the subject matter, perhaps we, the audience, are supposed to feel as though we have been allowed a glimpse into Lili Elbe’s private life. This intimacy certainly adds an emotional depth to The Danish Girl that many films struggle to achieve – so it’s probably best to bring tissues with you.

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★★★★

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