Movie review – The Danish Girl

Imagine a life so confused that every day you feel estranged from your very self.

Imagine knowing – with unerring certainty – that you’ve been born inside the wrong body.

Imaging being married to a loving, caring, sensitive wife but knowing – beyond any doubt – that you’re emotionally a woman too, and not the man she needs you to be.

This was the painful reality for successful landscape artist Einar Wegener and his struggling portrait artist wife Gerda in 1920s Copenhagen.

The Danish Girl is loosely based on Einar and Gerda’s story, allowing the movie free rein to explore the central characters and to weave in others.

When Einar sits for Gerda, dressed as a woman, his alter ago Lili Elbe begins to take over. Gerda’s own career takes off, ironically succeeding from the confused sexuality of her own husband.

The story evolves through lavish, atmospheric scenes in dockside Copenhagen and bohemian Paris, as husband and wife wrestle with the changing dynamics of their relationship. It shifts to a more clinical Germany when Einar demands to become Lili permanently, in what will be the first transgender – sex reassignment – surgery, undertaken by pioneering Dr Warnekros.

Eddie Redmayne plays both Einar and Lili in another acting tour de force, conveying his love for Gerda at the same time as knowing he must become Lili. An Oscar nomination for Eddie as both Best Actor and Actress, perhaps?

Alicia Vikander, as Gerda, deserves an Oscar nomination for both Best Actress and Best Wife in a Supporting Role for your Transgender Husband. Her constancy – and love – for Einar and Lili throughout the painfully evolving tale is remarkable, and deeply emotional.

Ben Whishaw – how many films has he made recently? – plays Henrik, the first Copenhagenite (or whatever they’re called) to kiss a fully dressed and made up Lili. But does he know Lili is Einar….?

Matthias Schoenaerts – already a good actor, fast becoming great – is Hans Axgil, a childhood friend of Einar who is an art dealer living in Paris. He supports Einar, Lili and Gerda through their evolving relationship and the ultimately tragic dénouement.

Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech and Les Misérables), The Danish Girl is a slow paced, but always moving, film. It’s sad, but it’s somehow absolutely life-affirming.

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