The Danish Girl review – chocolate-box charm from Eddie Redmayne
This fictionalised biopic of pioneering transgender artist Lili Elbe is well made and sympathetic, if a little too tasteful
Thursday 31 December 2015 19.00 GMT
he title is ambiguous, applying to either of its lead characters, but in both cases it should be The Danish Woman, surely? This is the fictionalised reimagining of the story of Lili Elbe, formerly Einar Wegener, the pioneering transgender artist from Denmark who, in 1930, was one of the first people to undertake sex reassignment surgery. Screenwriter Lucinda Coxon has adapted David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel based on Elbe’s life, and Tom Hooper directs with the same accomplishment and flair he brought to The King’s Speech, the same eye for sartorial elegance – Eddie Redmayne’s male suits make him look an elfin Prince of Wales. There is the same Pygmalion trope of remedial transformation.
Redmayne is Lili and Alicia Vikander plays Gerda, the fellow artist who is married to Einar (as he is originally). At first, Gerda skittishly goes along with their secret erotic game of Einar dressing in her clothes as Lili, and even partly creates this persona by painting portraits of this mysterious woman, which become the talk of the art world. But Gerda must deal with growing feelings of loneliness and abandonment.
This is a handsomely made picture, intelligent and sympathetic, with something of the uninsistent manner of Jan Morris’s memoir Conundrum. And it is well acted, particularly by Vikander; Redmayne does a fair bit of simpering and tittering as Lili, but his performance is consistent and thought through. My reservation is that there is a tasteful, chocolate-box presentation here that covers everything. Vikander is wonderfully pretty and Redmayne even more so. It is as if the movie is reassuring us that prettiness is what entitles you to transgender identity. As Einar and Lili, Redmayne has a likable and almost childlike innocence, with that unmistakable voice – the huskiest voice in British cinema since Roger Livesey. He is often shot looking dreamily straight ahead, as if playing a blind person. The Danish Girl has charm, but not quite passion.