Film Review: The Danish Girl

Based on David Ebershoff‘s fictional novel of the same name, The Danish Girl is loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander).

Directed by Tom Hooper, the film follows a fictitious love story centred around Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer, being one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery. As we follow Einar’s transformation into Lili, as he begins to find his true self, how will his marriage with Gerda and their artistic work proceed?

From the director of The King’s Speech (2010) and Les Misérables (2012), yet again alongside cinematographer Danny Cohen (with this being their fifth collaboration), The Danish Girl is a beautiful piece of filmmaking that tells a powerful and incredibly unique story.

Hooper and Cohen are the perfect filmmaking duo. Hooper’s work is always beautiful to watch, and The Danish Girl is no different. The cinematography is as well captured as one of Lili and Gerda’s paintings in the film, with the stunning backdrop of Copenhagen’s harbour further complimenting their style perfectly.

And just like the settings and set pieces in the background, the characters up front are just as eye-pleasing. The costume design and make-up are of a great quality, with Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander being the perfect couple to lead this film. They are two of my favourite actors at the minute, with both of them leading some of the best films of the past couple of years.

Their acting abilities, just like their appearances, are so flawlessly exquisite, with Redmayne, especially, exceeding himself once again. He is truly superb in the role, and no one else would have portrayed this character nearly as well, but Vikander is just as impressive. And then there’s a fantastic supporting cast, too, with Matthias Schoenaerts as Hans Axgil, Ben Whishaw as Henrik, and Amber Heard as Ulla.

The filming style and performances come together to give this film a high-quality finish, but what it’s really about is the unique story that it tells. Whilst The Danish Girl has been praised for its visual style and phenomenal performances, it’s had its fair share of criticism, too. And it all comes down to how many times I mentioned the word ‘fictitious’ in the opening synopsis.

I’ve read so many reviews commenting on how ignorant and misjudged the story and its characters are, stating that Redmayne’s character was a poor representation of a transgender person. For these viewers, it would have been difficult to engage with or feel inspired by the film, so it’s easy to see where the criticisms come from.

But I found this too difficult to comment on. To me, the story felt very personal, and as I watched the film I felt as if it was one person’s story. Even though it is fictitious, which must be emphasised, it’s all about how the story connects with you.

You’ve certainly got to be open-minded, but you’ve also got to remember that you don’t know how close this story is to that of either Lile Elbe’s life or of anybody else’s, and that maybe for somebody this is a true story. Because I have no idea what a person going through this personal struggle would be thinking or feeling, I won’t comment whether I felt that it was a true representation of a transgender person or not, because how would I know? All I will say is that it’s a relevant topic, a brave one for Hooper to take on, and it’s powerful and sensitive exploration of character is handled delicately.

That being said, it didn’t move me to tears, when a story like this really should. With the ending that it has, The Danish Girl should have been heart-breaking; it should have left us questioning the way we stereotype and judge others, and left us rooted in our cinema chairs with some kind of moral pondering. But it didn’t.

The second half of the film is certainly much slower than the enticing first half, and it does end a little disappointingly. Nevertheless, I can’t stop thinking about how beautiful the film was, and I’m still blown away by that. Sadly, it’s only these visuals and the performances that this film will be remembered for, not for anything more ground-breaking.

Still, it deserves a high rating, and definitely a watch on the big screen. It may have no had that final emotional impact, but it’s certainly a film I will swoon over for years to come.

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