Loosely based on a true story only means more fiction than fact. The Danish Girl which is based on the novel of the same name by author David Ebershoff, the novel is also loosely based on the events that play out in the film directed by Tom Hooper who also gave us another historical true story The Kings Speech. Where The Kings Speech leaned more on the side of accuracy, whereas the skeleton of The Danish Girl is mostly fabricated while based on actual people who lived during this time. These characters didn’t just live, they changed the world and serve as the basis for inspiration and strength for those who know they were born the wrong person.
The Danish Girl follows the lives of married couple and portrait artists Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) in the 1920’s as they live in Copenhagen. One day as Gerda is finishing up a portrait, she asks Einar to stand in as the subject with the dress, stockings and shoes that would belong to a woman. From there Einar begins to embrace who he truly is – who he was meant to be, Lili Elbe. Both Gerda and Einar are on different pages in their lives. Gerda is getting the recognition for her work while Einar is fully committing to becoming Lili – the person he was born to be.
Lili Elbe is one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, which at the of the early twentieth century posed the most risk because of how experimental the surgery would be. But still, Lili is the true person while Einar is the façade. At first Gerda supported Lili’s decision to transition but as Lili made her appearance more in the public eye Gerda’s attitude changed, she saw Lili differently and attempted to hold onto something that was already gone and lost – her marriage and her husband.
“I can feel myself getting better when I listen to your pencil. You’ve always sketched me better than I was. But what you draw, I become. You made me beautiful. And now you’re making me strong. Such power in you.”
The Danish Girl doesn’t work without the incredible talents of Eddy Redmayne and Alicia Vikander. Both performances carry this film which is intended to cast a wide net on their backs. Redmayne is coming off a performance of playing a human whose life and marriage drastically changed from a disease in the incredible Steven Hawking in The Theory of Everything where he deserved the best actor award at the Oscars. But as such a complex role as Lili the standout is Alicia Vikander. Both stars give emotional performances, but Alicia brings more gravitas to Gerda. That’s not the fault of Redmayne his performance of Lili is just as powerful and heartbreaking as his portrayal of Steven Hawking.
There is no real “fault” to The Danish Girl. It’s a solid film with a more than believable enough story given the fiction surrounding it but the problem here is that it’s too surface level. Tom Hooper plays it safe with the screenplay written by Lucinda Coxon. There is much more to be explored than what is seen on the surface. Lili took one of the biggest risks a human can possibly take in a time where not too many people are accepting of the possibility of a transgender person and the screenplay doesn’t support it. It’s made with the intention of Oscar season in mind – to be seen by as many pairs of eyes as possible. Don’t get me wrong, The Danish Girl does deserve that attention that was intended by Hooper and all involved.
Complementing the talents of Vikander and Redmayne is the stunning costume and set design which easily transports you to 1920’s Copenhagen. The styles are lavish, and the sets and scenery are beautiful to take in. Redmayne looks to be having the time of his life, after all that is the desire of the acting discipline – to fully adopt a character and make them their own. Redmayne is a special talent, his facial expressions alone can paint pictures without his character having a single line of dialogue.
“You’re my whole life. It could kill you.”
The Danish Girl is both heartbreaking and inspiring. For all those who feel like they were born as the wrong gender, The Danish Girl serves its purpose as a courageous journey a human takes to find their true self and identity. What Lili has done is astounding and should be celebrated by all who follow in her footsteps. Where the film is heartbreaking is from Gerda’s perspective -Lucinda’s script balances both points of views equally but Gerda’s story edges out more slightly. As close as Einar and Gerda were at the beginning of their story, the separation and fracture grows from there on. It’s shot perfectly when the two are in bed separated by a linen sheet suggesting that the two have never been more apart than in that moment. Pain, confusion and sadness can all be felt simultaneously. It’s a brilliantly constructed scene.
The Danish Girl is led by two special and powerful performances that really command the screen the moment we meet them. Eddie Redmayne continues to showcase his talent as an actor with his subtleties and facial expressions and Alicia brings strength and hope to Gerda. Beautiful costume and set design add to the aesthetic that transports us to the 1920’s but the film feels too shallow to really express what the characters struggles are being transgender. If I were to rate The Danish Girl, I’d rate it a 3 out of 5.
So, tell me, have you seen The Danish Girl and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think.
The Danish Girl is directed by Tom Hooper is Rated R and has a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Danish Girl was released on December 31, 2015 and has a runtime of 2 hours. The Danish Girl can be streamed on Netflix and purchased by online retailers such as Amazon, iTunes and Google.