A love story, actually

The Danish Girl, inspired by the lives of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, whose marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili's groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer

Kim Taylor-Foster


Kim Taylor-Foster

A love story, actually

The Danish Girl (15)
Running time 1hr 59 min
Rating ****

BRITISH director Tom Hooper may have won an Oscar for directing The King’s Speech, the highly decorated film about King George VI and his stammer, and been showered with acclaim for the technically ambitious Les Misérables, but in many ways
The Danish Girl is better than both. And that’s despite attracting criticism from some for its portrayal of what it is to be transgender and for casting a cisgender male in the lead role over a transgender alternative.

At its heart, this is a love story, albeit an unconventional one – and as a result, it’s all the more raw, complex and real. It touches many of us more profoundly than either of his previous films manage to do. We identify with these characters more readily than any of those in Les Mis or The King’s Speech; rather than sympathy, we feel full-blown empathy. Tom Hooper’s latest film is an indomitable triumph.

The Danish Girl takes the true story of one of the first gender re-alignment cases as its basis – Danish artist Lili Elbe, born Einar Wegener in 1882, played by Eddie Redmayne – and turns it into a heart-wrenching love story. We witness a far from simplistic
marital breakdown fuelled by one person’s struggle for acceptance, not only by those he loves but also by society – and crucially, his/herself.

It’s a story about the human condition, and – not dissimilar to Todd Haynes’s recent Carol – it’s also about realistic, complicated human beings struggling to find a place in the world and a moment in time that doesn’t accept them. This includes Einar’s wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander), who inevitably faces her own struggle with her husband’s revelations. She proves herself to be a character ahead of, or at least existing outside the confines of, her time. She’s an artist – and a sexually adventurous, bold and independent one at that – with progressive attitudes, and she becomes a rock for Einar to lean on. A wonderfully rounded character played sensitively by Vikander, she’s the film’s hushed standout, while Eddie Redmayne garners the attention for his equally sensitive but more conspicuous portrayal.It’s Vikander’s performance, however, that touches and resonates; she brings an incredible depth and strength to Gerda in this well-written role.

With a hurried ending, The Danish Girl isn’t perfect – you’d like a tad more investigation through one-to-one conversations into what such a crisis might do to their relationship. As a viewer, I’m not sure you fully understand why their close relationship has to end or why they are suddenly no longer married. There’s an assumption made thatof course they can no longer be together but the more broadminded among the audience will be questioning whether it’s a given that they have to separate.

Although the film may come under fire, its portrayal of the central relationship as authentic, loving and ‘modern’ is the film’s biggest, most heartbreaking, achievement – but it also gains power from its juxtaposition of visually appealing, King’s Speech-style, period drama looks with low-concept indie spirit. It’s one of the cleverest and most moving releases you’ll see in
cinemas all year.

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