Movie Review – The Danish Girl

The King’s Speech, Les Miserables and now, The Danish Girl; director Tom Hooper has done it again with another astounding period drama that seems destined for Academy Award glory.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Based on the 2000 novel of the same name, The Danish Girl recounts the real-life story of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne), a famous 20th Century painter who became the first recorded person to undergo sex reassignment surgery in 1931. Also starring Alicia Vikander and Matthias Schoenaerts, this is an affecting tale that is jam-packed with emotional performances, gorgeous camerawork and a captivating script.

Visually astounding from the very first frame, Hooper handles the camera with extra care when framing Redmayne’s pale visage, pausing to drink in every minute lash flutter, half-smile and lip quiver. His performance is graceful and respectful, laden with the utmost care for his subject; it may veer slightly too close to sentimentality at times, but you can’t fault Redmanye’s utter commitment to the role in a physical sense. This is so much more than just slapping on a wig and talking slightly quieter; Redmayne completely changes how his character moves through every scene, starting as a relaxed and talented painter before retreating inward to become this timid and introverted young woman unsure of her own place in the world.

Whilst the film is undoubtedly about Redmayne and his gradual transformation from Einar to Lili, an equally eye-catching performance from Vikander should not go unheralded. Filled with questions, and lost within a society with zero answers, Vikander is astounding as Einar’s loving wife, and later, Lili’s loyal friend. Her relationship with her husband becomes increasingly warped as time goes on, and Vikander’s heart-breaking performance carries emotional heft every step of the way. It’s great to see that the Academy has remembered to recongise her as well as Redmayne in their recent round of nominations – even if her role being downgraded to supporting is a political move that leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth.

Cinematographer Danny Cohen is clearly in his element with this film; the achingly gorgeous landscape shots are expertly composed and framed, not unlike the detailed works of art that the lead duo paint. Whether it’s the frosty fish markets of Copenhagen or the jumbled rooftops of Paris, Hooper and Cohen’s combined efforts behind the camera make The Danish Girl a sumptuous visual affair that is soaked in the opulent architecture, intricate costuming and rich interior sets that befit the period setting.

My only real issue with the film is how wary it is of the subject at hand. Hooper tiptoes around the central message with the delicateness of a feather, not wanting to push the envelope too far for fear of shocking or offending people. Both Redmayne and Vikander aren’t afraid of bearing all on more than one occasion in this film, but the third act pulls back from really showing us anything confronting. For a film about the first recorded transgender person, The Danish Girl plays a little too safe and apolitical when it matters most.

In some ways, this shouldn’t really matter; Hooper’s film isn’t about transgender rights in the same way that Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette is barracking heavily for women’s rights and using historical context as its emotional anchor. It’s more of a simple character study, trading heavy themes of gender and sexuality for a more inoffensive romantic tale of human bravery and companionship. Whether this affects the lasting impact the film has on audiences is another matter, but it shouldn’t detract from the stunning camerawork, visual design and acting on display from all those involved.

The Danish Girl is available in Australian cinemas from 21st January

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures 

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