A fictitious love story loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda's marriage and work evolves as they navigate Lili's groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.
The Danish Girl is adapted from David Ebershoff's novel by Tom Hooper, retelling a true-life-story. The point about the film, of course, is that it has two Danish heroines and that one of them started life as a Danish boy. Well-meaning and polished as it is, this film is determinedly mainstream melodrama that doesn't really offer new perspectives in theme; in the year of Caitlin Jenner, it's a theme on which mainstream audiences are ready for more trenchant insight. In fact, some might have wished for a more adventurous approach to this moving story, particularly at a time when transgender representation has taken over from gay rights as the next equality frontier. If the movie remains safe, there's no questioning its integrity or the balance of porcelain vulnerability that Eddie Redmayne brings to the lead role.
For an actor, there can be few more challenging roles than this, in which the nature of identity, performance and transformation are all wrapped up in the very DNA of the character itself. Redmayne gives an infinitely more intimate performance and far less technical than the already stunning character he played in The Theory of Everything, that so recently won him an Oscar. He's once again certain to reap plentiful laurels in this awards season; with another role about a slow process of physical and psychological transformation. Einar's dawning discovery of his inner woman is treated somewhat like a superhero origin story. Offering more light and shade this character becomes undeniably affecting. There's an understated emotional surge in seeing Lili go to work behind a chic department store perfume counter, radiating happiness at being a woman among other women and timidly studying sensual female body language in a Paris peepshow, is one of the film's most exquisite and indelible scenes. Here, Alicia Vikander sports the same archly knowing English accent as in Testament of Youth.
Tom Hopper and writer Lucinda Dixon take a deeply conventional approach by framing their story as a portrait of a loving marriage with an awkward flaw. The cinematography sets up the exquisite visual tone at the start with a series of atmospheric, deeply painterly landscape shots. There are hints of a more interesting film.
Overall, this film is an impeccably made period piece.