Eddie Redmayne won the Oscar last year for his portrayal of brilliant scientist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. He now has the chance to go back to back after another Academy Award nominated turn as artist Einar Wegener, later Lili Elbe, in The Danish Girl. Redmayne stars opposite Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) – who is nominated for a Best Supporting Actress gong – in the movie, which is directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables).
In 1926 in Copenhagen artist Einar Wegener (Redmayne) is married to Gerda Wegener (Vikander) and is revered for his landscape paintings. Gerda is also an artist, less renowned but steadily working creating portraits of prominent citizens. Theirs is a strong and loving marriage, yet personal and professional epiphanies have eluded them. That all begins to change almost by accident when, on deadline for a portrait, Gerda asks her husband to fill in for a model by putting on stockings, shoes and holding a dress against himself so that she can finish the painting. The experience is transformative as Einar soon realises that his creation “Lili” is an expression of his truest self. Thereafter, “Lili” quite literally starts to take over his life. Gerda unexpectedly finds that she has a new muse and, with it, renewed creative ferment. But the pair soon brushes up against society’s disapproval.
They leave their homeland for the more open-minded world of Paris. There it is Gerda’s career that continues to flourish. The couple’s marriage has changed irrevocably and the strain is palpable. Nevertheless, time and again Gerda supports Lili during her journey as a transgender woman.
The Danish Girl is based upon David Ebershoff’s debut novel, which was first published in 2000. This is a sensitive, touching and tortured tale of true love and devotion, not to overlook courage. Redmayne’s astonishing performance sees him equally at home as a man and a woman. When he discovers his feminine side, he practices his affectations. He is at once measured and manic, contemplative and deeply troubled. The psychological torment is palpable. At first, Gerda thinks Einar is just playing, but the mood quickly shifts when she realises he is actually playing for keeps.
As she did in Ex Machina, Vikander again impresses with another nuanced role, which could also see her earn higher honours. She is undoubtedly one of the hottest in-vogue talents going around and given what she leaves on screen it is easy to understand why.
The sets, settings and costumes are quite exquisite as Einar Wegener undergoes his crisis. Tom Hooper has woven a deeply affecting tale, with Redmayne showing the way. Rated M, The Danish Girl scores a 7½ out of 10.
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts
Release Date: 21 January 2016
Rating: M – Nudity, sex, mature themes and violence
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television