With his latest film, British filmmaker Tom Hooper tackles subjects much more complex than in his Academy-Award-winning The King’s Speech. Eddie Redmayne follows up his award-winning portrayal of Stephen Hawking with more surefire awards-bait as Lili Elbe, the woman whom Danish landscape painter Einar Wegener truly is. Lili’s struggles to outwardly identify with her true gender are matched by the challenges faced by Einar’s painter wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander, who burst onto the scene in Ex Machina).
Hooper and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon deftly address complicated issues of gender, identity and marriage, as Lili’s emergence pushes Gerda further away. The Danish Girl offers an intriguing glimpse into one of the hot-button issues of 2015 and beyond. As a society, we continue to struggle with transgender issues; The Danish Girl offers insight into how 1920s Europe dealt with it (the answer: not well). Elbe was one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Imagine having that performed in the late ‘20s.
Basing the movie on David Ebershoff’s novel and not actual history allows the filmmakers to play with history to best tell their story, and their Danish Girl packs an emotional punch. Redmayne makes a lovely woman; as Lili, he could be mistaken for Jessica Chastain. He is at his best as Lili, not Einar, whose few scenes of illness feel recycled from his Hawking performance in The Theory of Everything. Vikander is a wonder yet again, which makes her virtual appearance from nowhere in Ex Machina even more shocking. No typical British costume drama, The Danish Girl is not your mother’s Merchant Ivory pic.
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