The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl movie poster

Release: Friday, November 27, 2015 (limited)


Written by: Lucinda Coxon

Directed by: Tom Hooper

The Danish Girl, at least at a glance, looks poised to pull a Dallas Buyers Club and receive recognition, and possibly even win top prizes for both leading categories next February. The field is getting pretty stacked though, and if Leo can just get a word in edgeways . . .

Even though he’s in the lead here, Eddie Redmayne recalls Jared Leto, who last year transformed himself from 30 Seconds to Mars vocalist to Oscar-deserving thespian on the back of his scintillating turn as a transgender prostitute. Even with Leto’s prior roles considered, the story of him becoming Rayon was one of the highlights of 2014. He couldn’t do it alone though as surely he fed off of Matthew McConaughey’s own intensity.

Similarly in The Danish Girl Redmayne is half the picture, entirely dependent upon the chemistry he shares with his Swedish co-star Alicia Vikander, who officially gives Marion Cotillard something to worry about. No longer does the race for first place in the Best Leading Lady poll seem like such a given. Vikander is arguably best in show in a film that will be remembered for heartwarming (and breaking) performances first and story second.

Slight in build but dapper in a suit, Redmayne is introduced as an upstanding but quite shy young man, a talented painter named Einar Wegener whose landscape portraits are fairly highly sought after. He lives in 1920s Copenhagen with his wife of several years, Gerda, herself a painter. The story is very much one that takes place behind closed doors, chronicling Einar’s transition from a man into a woman and becoming one of the earliest recipients of gender reassignment surgery, a journey inspired by Gerda’s insistence her husband stand in temporarily as a model to allow her to finish off a painting. He dons high heels and stockings, pretends to wear a dress and appears altogether comfortable doing so.

The Danish Girl isn’t made with impatient viewers in mind, nor purists who believe biopics have an absolute obligation to recount every single fact as they happened. Over the course of two hours the film massages an ache into a deeply seated pain, transforming a seemingly ordinary, loving marriage into a relationship fraught with doubt and tested to its very limits as Einar begins to more deeply embrace a new identity.

While there is strong focus on the moment, the film isn’t suggesting a simple game of dress-up was the moment the artist first realized something about them was different. Einar simply believes now more than ever he was born a woman and would prefer to identify as such. Gerda, meanwhile, has a difficult time accepting the game is no longer a game. Director Tom Hooper wisely introduces issues that had potentially been ongoing for years, such as the couple’s infertility problems, among other things. Einar adopts the name Lili Elbe to reflect another phase in her own personal evolution.

Lili also experiences chronic physical pain on a monthly basis, prompting her to seek medical advice. Of course, these are more austere times and as far as doctors are concerned, there’s something psychologically wrong with Einar for believing he’s been born a woman. Homosexuality isn’t exactly viewed in a positive light, much less the concept of a man (or a woman for that matter) identifying more strongly as the opposite gender. These circumstances were considered, at best, exotic fantasies generated by feeble or perverted minds. Supporting actors playing doctors may be on the fringe, but they contribute significantly to that sense of intolerance and it can be pretty uncomfortable.

Hooper’s weaving of fact with fiction works very well all things considered — there’s little mention of the couple’s marriage being annulled by Danish courts in light of Wegener’s groundbreaking surgery, and the real Lili underwent four procedures instead of the two the film implies she had. The Danish Girl blends two powerful performances with a keenly observed screenplay that places a premium on dignity and courage. This is an extremely human movie, perhaps presenting more layers to a single person than any other film this year.

The intimacy is palpable, and not just in terms of the performances. Danny Cohen’s camerawork deserves recognition, for he assembles a patchwork of beautiful shots of the natural world, a few the source of inspiration for some of Einar’s work, and life in romantic European cities such as Copenhagen and Paris. The Dresden Municipal Women’s Clinic, where the surgeries were performed, looks like a castle cloaked in thick tree cover. Elegant cinematography expertly parallels the inner beauty the deeply conflicted Girl so desperately seeks.

Indeed, and much like Jean-Marc Vallée’s exploration of the societal stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS, this is a beautiful production in more ways than one, its committed performances so clearly sympathetic toward their subjects. Structurally sound but not particularly inventive, in its pursuit of the depth and complexity of the things that make people what they are The Danish Girl bears significant weight.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 5.04.20 PM

Recommendation: Another showcase for Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander (who is arguably better than her male co-star), The Danish Girl is putty in the hands of critics. Moving in the way that you deeply care about the fates of all involved. Dazzlingly shot. Some scenes are highly predictable and formulaic but there is no denying this is a winner. (All the same though, Eddie I’m sorry but my allegiance will still probably lie with Leo come February.) 

Rated: R

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “I’ve only liked a handful of people in my life, and you’ve been two of them.”

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19 thoughts on “The Danish Girl

  1. Pingback: Earthquake Bird | Thomas J

  2. Excellent review my friend! I have been wondering about seeing this or not. Redmayne has never really been someone I watched, but he was excellent in The Theory of Everything, hence I would like to see him. Plus Vikander is someone who churns out consistently good performances.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The cast elevate what is otherwise a pretty mundane story about finding one’s identity. It’s set in the early days of the 20th Century also helps. I really enjoyed the movie, but recognize that Redmayne’s turn in last year’s prestige biopic was much better. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his name turn up on the Oscar ballot though.

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  4. I was really in two minds over seeing this but you’ve convinced me to give it a shot. It opens here on New Year’s Day so I’ll check it out…I’m more excited about seeing Vikander again than Redmayne, although I felt he deserved the Oscar he got last year so I guess I should be more excited about this performance…even if it does sound like classic Oscar bait. He seems to be doing a lot with his hands in that trailer!


  5. Hmmmm. Now, I’ll be honest and say this doesn’t look great. That may be because I’m still not convinced by Redmayne (I know, I know he’s won an Oscar). However, your review at least now has me intrigued in the film!

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    • Here’s to hoping Leo does NOT get snubbed again. 🙂 Eddie Redmayne here is really good as well. But Vikander might just take the cake. Her character is mightily conflicted here, it’s something else watching her handle this changing reality. Vikander has put in a lot of fine work this year. She’s really on the rise


        • I think Saoirse has the greatest chance out of the performances I have seen. For Blanchett the only thing I’m going off of right now is her work in Truth, and while that was good I heard her Carol is the one she’ll get recognition for. As for Vikander’s Ava, to me that was the greatest achievement this year. I mean that was an absolute knock-out performance. So i guess this year the argument will be: which is better, the A.I. or the human performance? 😉


  6. Vikander is so pretty. So so so pretty. It pisses me off. 🙂 Great review, Tom! I should really try to check this one out before the Oscars but, yeah – I want to see Leo finally get an Oscar for something. For anything!

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    • Thanks Natal . . . er, Natasha! 😉 Yeah, this film is quite good and Redmayne’s one of the best parts about it (I’m veering again ever so much closer to Vikander as to who’s better) — but the Statue belongs in Leo’s hands dammit! 😀 I can’t wait to see The Revenant, been hearing mixed things surprisingly. All have been consistent with how good he is in it, though, so that’s great news


    • He definitely has a very express-y face. I’ve really been warming to him ever since catching him in My Week with Marilyn. I think that was one of my five first reviews on this site. . . that seems so long ago now


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