The Danish Girl review: a marriage in transformation

Eddie Redmayne plays the pioneering transgender painter Einar ‘Lili’ Wegener in this interesting if overly tame biopic from the director of ‘The King’s Speech’

Film Title: The Danish Girl

Director: Tom Hooper

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch, Amber Heard

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 120 min

Thu, Dec 31, 2015, 07:00

   

In the 1920s, Danish landscape painter Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) became the first- known person to undergo sexual reassignment. In truth, as Tom Hooper’s biographical portrait records, Einar’s transformation into Lili began long before the surgical intervention.

In The Danish Girl, the metamorphosis begins with a no-show. Einar’s devoted wife, the fashion illustrator Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) asks her husband to stand in for a female model. She names him “Lili”. Wouldn’t it be a hoot, Gerda suggests, if Lili attended an upcoming ball?

As it happens, the function is not fun for Gerda or Einar in drag. It does, however, bring about a realisation for both the viewer and the titular heroine in the making: Lili isn’t simply a byproduct of cross-dressing; she is, rather, Einar’s true self.

Throughout this transformation, Gerda remains steadfast, loyal and long-suffering, the kind of wife normally found in country-western ballads: Stand by Your Man, Even When He’s Not One. So Vikander’s performance accordingly shifts in synch with Redmayne’s feminisation.

In early scenes, Gerda is playful and coquettish: “It’s hard for a man to be looked at by a woman,” she purrs at a sitting subject. “It’s hard to submit, although there is some pleasure in it once you yield.” She doesn’t quite add: “Oh, my”.

Later, though, she’s mostly weeping. Redmayne, too, mostly weeps. Emoting isn’t an issue for either player but it does, eventually, make for samey viewing.

It’s commendable that Hooper (The King’s Speech) has brought Einar Wegener to a multiplex near you: the trans- gendered have been marginalised or neglected by history for too long. But this restrained, elegant drama seems at odds with its pioneering subject.

Trans films need to be big and bold in the manner of Xavier Dolan’s epic Laurence Anyways, or transgressive in the style of Andy Warhol’s Trash, or tragic in the fashion of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s In a Year of 13 Moons.

Instead, The Danish Girl feels a little like gazing at Einar’s chilly, dull, strangely claustrophobic landscapes.

It’s pretty, but one would rather spend the time with the trash-talking gals from Tangerine