Tom Hooper brings the story of Lili Elbe, one of the world’s first gender reassignment patients, to the big screen.
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander
The Danish Girl is a film that has been fighting to get made for a long time, yet it has finally come along when the subject matter couldn’t be more relevant. Trans issues are finally being talked about, and 2015 was a big year with Caitlyn Jenner – love her or hate her – making the issue a household topic, whilst the likes of Laverne Cox are bringing the issues to the mainstream. It feels like the perfect backdrop to tell the story of Lili Elbe, born Einar Warner, who was one of the first patients to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
Hooper fully embraces the classical film-making style, and the result is a dully beautiful 1920’s Copenhagen, as pleasing to the eye as one of Einar (Eddie Redmayne) or Gerda Warner’s (Alicia Vikander) paintings, but lacking the substance that one would expect in a film of this sort. The narrative is fairly straightforward and the paint-by-numbers biopic arguably doesn’t do the extremely interesting real-life characters justice.
Redmayne and Vikander are at the top of their game and have both received Oscar nominations for their fantastic work as the married couple at the center of the tale. They make the film watchable and their dynamic as a married couple and, above all else, as friends is what is at the heart of the story. It can be disappointing to look at the backstory of the real Einar/Lili and Gerda however, and see that Hooper has opted to take a decidedly bland version of the tale to the screen. The supporting cast are equally strong, with Mattias Schoenaerts in particular becoming a key player.
The film has proved controversial in it’s depiction of Lili, with criticisms being aimed at Redmayne’s casting and the fact that the narrative bases itself on Einar ‘learning’ to be a woman, with various scenes showing the character mimicking female gestures. This could almost be perceived as a step backwards in the representation of trans issues, but Redmayne’s performance itself is well executed. Much like his Oscar-winning turn in The Theory of Everything, the actor carried out extensive research for the role and it shines through, with the films issues instead being down to the script.
The score, whilst pleasant, is nothing special and continues the ‘by the book’ feel that blights the entire film, though the costume and set design is stunning. In his review for The Atlantic, David Sims said:
“It’s a film that’s sensitive and often touching, but not remotely compelling.”
All the elements for a great film are there, but a story as interesting as Lili’s should not be this boring to watch. It could have been a film that broke new ground, but instead it feels like Hooper is playing it safe and gunning for the Oscar’s.
Ultimately, The Danish Girl is a story of what could have been – perhaps in the hand of a different director it may have been a very different film, but as it stands it has fallen far short of the wider cultural impact it could have had.