Films that deal with LGBT issues and characters hardly get a wide cinema release. Despite having entire film distribution companies devoted to the subject (Peccadillo Pictures for anyone interested), unless it’s something that has swept the pre-award/festival circuit, for example Blue Is The Warmest Colour or Carol then it hardly gets an audience. The Danish Girl has been on the festival run already, so now in cinemas, how does it fare?
The Danish Girl stars Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw and Amber Heard and is directed by Tom Hooper. Based on a true story, the film follows Lili Elbe, who was born as Einar Wegener, and was one of the first people to have sex reassignment surgery.
The actors and actresses throughout The Danish Girl are one of the reasons to go watch it. While there was controversy to begin with over whether the role of Lili should go to a trans actor, in the end the role went to Eddie Redmayne and he does a stellar job of laying both Einar and Lili. While watching I was reminded of the dual performance of Tom Hardy in last year’s Legend, and just like Hardy, Redmayne manages to create two very distinct characters, both with different mannerisms, goals and talents. It’s not even the physical differences of the wig and make-up that create the main difference, it’s all down to Redmayne’s ability as an actor.
The actress opposite Redmayne is Alicia Vikander, who plays Einar’s wife, Gerda. 2015 seemed to have been Vikander’s year, with several high-profile castings, all the way from blockbusters (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) down to indie auteur pieces (Ex Machina) and just like her performances then, her performance in The Danish Girl is exceptional. Her portrayal of a woman who first made a game out of her husband’s identity issue, only for it to turn on her and wreck her marriage is heartbreaking. During the film she blames herself for losing her husband and asks Lili to turn back and “find” Einar and in the process shows a wide variety of emotions, which should definitely get her nominated during the award season.
In many respects, The Danish Girl plays much like a traditional love story, the only major difference here being is that one character is transgender rather that fitting into the male/female binary choice. Lili and Gerda still have intimate scenes even when Einar has “died” (Lili’s words) showing that it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
While watching, my enjoyment fluctuated majorly over the films run time. After thinking about it, I’ve pinned it down to the three act structure, with each act seeming to drag on for too long. The first act we see Einar becoming Lili, the second we see mainly Lili and then the third act where the reassignment surgery takes place. The film is easily broken into three parts, and each one starts strong before just dropping into a much slower gear or similar scenery to the rest of the film. While the second half of part two and the final third of the film are the best sections, getting to these points flips from one end of the scale to the other, with it being sometimes engaging and at other points incredibly pedestrian.
My other complaint of the film is that it’s rather too well constructed. Everything from the inch-perfect make-up to the dresses that Redmayne wears all feels a bit too overdone and artificial somehow. This, coupled with the sometimes overracting of the actors and actresses (not a fault of theirs, more to do with a sometimes flat and awkward script), it starts to become a bit too superficial, instead of delving into Lili’s mind it sits back and looks at her and her outfits.
In summary, The Danish Girl has some great actors and actresses at the helm, along with an acclaimed director, but it falls apart when it concerns itself with surface, and is redeemed when it gets back to the characters.
Score: 6/10 After the excellent 2015, 2016 is off to a steady start.