Director: Tom Hooper
Growing up as Einar, Lili (Redmayne) is a successful painter in Copenhagen. His wife Gerta (Vikander) is also a painter, but unable to emulate the same kind of success as her husband. But as Einar starts to experiment wearing her clothes, she sees an opportunity to paint a truly original subject. Initially encouraging him to assume his new identity, it isn’t long before she questions her husband’s intentions as Lili appears more and more frequently, both to herself and eventually to others. Before long, Gerta has to decide whether she will support Lili through her transition, or reject this change entirely.
The film is resplendent in its depiction of various European citties in the 1920s. Copenhagen, Paris and Dresden are luscious on screen, painting a glorious backdrop on which this period drama with wholly modern themes is played. Hooper's direction is strong, with clear consistency in steering the film toward its message of love overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. With a colour palate as bold as its painter subjects' work, The Danish Girl is a visual film, with due care paid to its aesthetic. However, this poses the film's only sticking point: much emphasis is laden on how pretty Lili is as a girl... but would her transition have been less acceptable if she wasn't? This question goes unanswered.
After the quasi-misfire of Les Miserables, The Danish Girl sees Hooper return to the territory of which he is a master; sweeping period drama with fascinating subjects. While it lacks the focused narrative consistency of The King's Speech, there's no doubt that the film packs one almighty emotional punch that I defy anyone to be left cold by. Though Lili Elbe was essentially just an ordinary girl, she found herself caught in extraordinary social, political and historical circumstances far beyond her control. And while I watched this personal tale of an early gender pioneer (albeit through circumstance), I couldn't help but wonder about the people who had gone before her. While Lili was able to undergo gender reassignment, what are the stories of those who couldn't? How did transgender people live before there was even a glimmer of the possibility of surgery? While this is a triumphant beginning for transgenderism in mainstream Hollywood, those are the stories I would like to see on screen one day soon.