The Danish Girl Review: Pretty as a picture

Director: Tom Hooper

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Mathias Schoenaerts

The Overview

Loosely inspired by the lives of Danish painters Einar and Gerda Wegener, The Danish Girl tells the extraordinary story of Einar’s transformation into Lili, as he undergoes one of the first sex-change operations. The film focuses on the relationship between Einar/Lili and Gerda, and the affect on their marriage, as well as their working life.

The Good

As with most of Hooper’s recent films (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables), every frame in The Danish Girl looks like a work of art. Each scene is meticulously shot, and the film has a really gorgeous and sumptuous feel to it. This is aided by the fact the costumes, hair and makeup are absolutely stunning. The touching of fabric and the extreme close-ups of particularly Lili’s face, are soft, subtle and beautiful.

Last year’s Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne doesn’t disappoint, and brings a wonderful fragility to the role. I don’t think he gives a performance worthy enough of an Oscar this year, but he deserves credit still for his ability to completely embody a character, to the point where you forget you are watching an actor. Few young actors are able to pull this off, but Redmayne completely absorbs himself into his characters and it is great to watch. Can we get an award just for his hands though? Seriously! He is able to tell so much of the story and create so much character with his hands in this film that it is really quite extraordinary to watch.

The real star surprisingly in this film though is Alicia Vikander as his wife Gerda. Redmayne’s character is a complex one, but Gerda is equally complex in different ways. She conveys the emotion, acceptance and love of Gerda so brilliantly and is utterly believable in every sense. I absolutely loved her in Ex Machina, but it is here that Vikander really proves what a great actress she is, and I predict we’ll see big things from her in the future.

I really enjoyed the score in this film also. Where I have read that others found it quite invasive, I actually found it was used very sparingly. It was subtle and quiet when it needed to be, and swept you along in a wave of emotion in the necessary places as well. A dramatic score fits a film like this, and I felt it worked really well with the overall look and feel of the film.  

The Bad

The main thing I disliked about this film was the runtime; it felt about half an hour too long for me. In the middle act, the story is quite “samey” and develops very slowly to get towards the conclusion, so I feel this could have been trimmed down.

I did enjoy this film, but it really felt like it was missing “something”, and this is something I can’t quite put my finger on. It was certainly beautiful to look at and I really enjoyed the two lead performances, but it lacked real substance to it. It was played out in a very grand, almost operatic setting, but it is actually a very small story, and when a small story is played out in such a grand way it suffers a bit along the way.

It is certainly a very important story, and one which I’m sure will speak to a lot of people who struggle with gender identity. In order to emphasise its importance, I would have liked to have seen how Lili’s transformation impacted others perhaps, rather than solely focusing on Lili and Gerda. We didn’t learn enough about Lili’s past, Henrik (Whishaw) was completely underdeveloped as a character, and I would have liked to have seen more made of Gerda and Hans’ (Schoenaerts) relationship.

The Verdict

I saw this movie and you should too. Whilst it really does strike me as “Oscar bait”, this is still a film well worth seeing. Redmayne and Vikander put in great performances, and Hooper’s masterful direction make it a beautiful film to look at. If you find the missing “something” that I was looking for in this film, then please let me know, but do enjoy anyway, it is worth seeing despite its flaws.

Agree with everything I’ve said, or am I a terribly misguided idiot who has got it all wrong? Please let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share as well.

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