The Danish Girl
TIFF 2015: Eddie Redmayne shines yet again in the tale of a transgender pioneer
The Danish Girl has all the hallmarks of a prestigious, award-season contender. The story of 1930s transgender pioneer Lili Elbe is told by director Tom 'The King’s Speech' Hooper with painterly compositions and a finely nuanced performance from Eddie Redmayne that seems destined to secure him a second, consecutive Best Actor Oscar nomination. It is a model of dignified, delicate restraint but there are times when it seems to suffocate under the weight of its own sumptuous respectability.
Redmayne is the perfect fit for the title role. His razor-sharp cheekbones, long, tapering fingers and alabaster skin give him an androgynous look reminiscent of the young Bowie. He depicts Copenhagen painter Einar Wegener as a man of dashing charm and gentle manners. His marriage to fellow artist Gerda (Alicia Vikander) is loving and respectful. It is the forward Gerda who encourages him to don women’s clothes, creating the alter-ego of shy country cousin Lili. It is seen as a shared jape and a sign of their bohemian disregard for society’s rules. Painting portraits of Lili gives Gerda a renown she has never previously enjoyed, but for Einar this is more than a passing charade; it is the first stage in the realisation that he wants to become a woman.
The complex dilemmas that follow are captured in the anguished performance of Vikander as the eternally loyal wife, heartbroken at losing the husband she loves. Redmayne invests a considerable amount of detail in the physicality of his own performance, defining Lili in shy smiles, coy gestures and the swan-like grace of a trained dancer. The steely determination in Lili's decision to pursue groundbreaking surgery makes the film a touching tale of quiet courage and empowerment, even if you still feel there is more to this story than The Danish Girl allows us to experience.
Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2015. General release from Fri 1 Jan 2016.