If Academy Awards truly represent the best performances brought to the big screen in any one year, then Eddie Redmayne in the role of artist Einer Wegener in The Danish Girl has every right to feel aggrieved although he is probably far too magnanimous or circumspect to have complained. Perhaps his Oscar for the lead role in The Theory of Everything in 2014 in some way influenced the judging process.
The Danish Girl is outstanding cinema by any measure despite failing to be nominated in the Best Picture category.A justly deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actress however was awarded to Alicia Vikander in the role of Gerda, wife of Einer.
Set in the 1920’s, The Danish Girl is a sensitive, thought provoking biopic surrounding the transformation of Einer Wegener from a man to a woman.The journey over many years is punctuated with euphoria and despair, pressured by the homophobic intolerance of the day and enlivened by robust ethical debate. As Einer embarks upon his quest to undergo high risk, experimental sexual reassignment surgery he does so with the full support and love of his wife. Gerda’s selfless devotion to Einer is a highlight of the story. Her devotion borders on martyrdom in a remarkable sub plot that builds as Einer moves ever closer to realising his dream of becoming a woman in the pure physical sense.
Art is used most effectively as a metaphor to convey the sensitivities of Einar and Gerda. Einar is a popular and established landscape artist but it is Gerda who is considered the artist of greater talent and with the brightest future. Art continues as a backdrop and among the coterie of friends and patrons Einar and Gerda find empathy and understanding for the quest of Einar to become Lili, ‘The Danish Girl’. While Lili’s art career is subsumed by unfolding events, Gerda makes clever use of her rising popularity to assist the cause of Lili.
The quality of acting is the hallmark of this brave film. Nothing should be taken away from the performance of Alicia Vikander as Gerda. She evolves as the emotional and physical crises deepen, constantly changing the dynamics of her relationship with her husband but remaining steadfast despite the relentless and at times overwhelming challenges. Her performance is totally believable and always engaging.
Eddie Redmayne as Einar (and Lili) has shown once again his extraordinary ability to immerse himself in a difficult, demanding role. As he demonstrated so capably in The Theory of Everything in the role of physicist Stephen Hawking and now in The Danish Girl, the real Eddie Redmayne is soon lost from view. He becomes the character complete with the most subtle nuances of emotion, voice and movement. A most poignant scene within The Danish Girl depicts Einar or Lili as she has become, at a peep show in Paris. Lili is not there for voyeuristic reasons but rather to study and mimic the delicate hand, limb and head movements of the performing dance artist. The scene powerfully conveys the inner conviction of Lili to acquire every trait of femininity. Such attention to detail can be found throughout the film.
The Danish Girl embraces many complex ethical and moral dilemmas and engages the audience to explore their own beliefs as the plot unfolds. Ultimately it is a story about choice, respect and humanity and thanks to the director, Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl is another step along the path to greater tolerance and understanding.
The Danish Girl is highly recommended.
Based on the book of the same name by David Ebershoff.
Running time: 2 hours. Rating R.
Director: David Hooper.Produced by: Working Title.
Available on DVD June 2nd, 2016.