The Danish Girl



The story of the Danish artist Einar Wegener who chose to undergo surgery for a sex change in the early 1930s is told here in terms which misguidedly play around with the facts.


In January 2015 it sounded as though Eddie Redmayne had found the perfect vehicle to build on his huge and deserved success playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The announcement that he would take on the role of Einar Wegener, the Dane who at the start of the 1930s opted for surgery to become a woman, suggested an excitingly challenging project and one was encouraged further on learning that the director, following up his triumphs with The King’s Speech and Les Misérables, would be Tom Hooper.


But now that the film is with us it proves to be a major disappointment with much of the blame attached to Lucinda Coxon’s screenplay. With transgender issues very much in the air, this might seem exactly the right time to use mainstream cinema to pay tribute to Einar Wegener as somebody courageous and far ahead of his time. But reality ought to be respected more closely than this film, a kind of romantic weepie, is prepared to do. Einar and his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), were both painters and the film shows how modelling stockings and appropriate shoes in order to help Gerda complete a female portrait unlocked in Einar the sense that he was really a woman.


 Danish Girl

 Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne: who is the fairest of them all?


In the early stages Redmayne with little to work on is dull but, as Einar starts to go out dressed in female clothes as Lili and then decides with Gerda’s support that he should seek out illegal operations to change his sex, the actor has his moments. But the fact is that at this time Einar was middle-aged and married not for six years as stated in the film but for twenty six. As for Gerda, she was apparently bisexual with lesbian instincts never touched on here. But it’s not just these distortions that sink the film: Coxon’s screenplay fails to flesh out adequately the character and sexual interests of two subsidiary figures, Henrik (Ben Whishaw) and Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts): the former seems initially drawn to Lili, who at the time looks like Charley’s Aunt, as to a woman and is only later revealed to be gay, whereas Hans, who once kissed the young Einar when he saw him dressed up as a girl, is portrayed as flirting with Gerda.


Reality seems all the more remote because Alexandre Desplat’s music score lacks any period sense and the film’s climactic scenes feature dialogue that belongs wholeheartedly to the world of the weepie in its oh-so-neat contrivance. In these unhappy circumstances, much credit is due to Alicia Vikander who makes more of her role than it deserves. In fairness, I should add that The Danish Girl has divided critical opinion earning praise as well as condemnation. But I know which side I’m on.


MANSEL STIMPSON                                                                                                                           


Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sebastian Koch, Amber Heard, Emerald Fennell, Pip Torrens, Nicholas Woodeson.


Dir Tom Hooper, Pro Gail Mutrux, Anne Harrison, Tom Bevan, Eric Fellner and Tom Hooper, Screenplay Lucinda Coxon based on the book by David Ebershoff, Ph Danny Cohen, Pro Des Eve Stewart, Ed Melanie Ann Oliver, Music Alexandre Desplat, Costumes Paco Delgado.


Working Title/Pretty Pictures/ReVision Pictures/Senator Global Productions-Universal Pictures.
122 mins. USA/UK/Denmark/Belgium/Japan. 2015. Rel: 1 January 2016. Cert. 15.