Based on the book by David Ebershoff, The Danish Girl begins in 1926 Copenhagen where happily married Einar (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) are both pursuing careers as artists, Einar experiencing more recognition for his landscape art, though it is clear from the outset there is mutual support from both partners.
One day, Gerda’s model is late for a sitting, so she spiritedly asks her husband to put on the silk stockings and ballet slippers, at which point something long-suppressed rouses in Einar and Lili is born.
Initially, Gerda encourages Einar, persuading him to attend a society party as Lili, though she is hurt when she catches Lili being kissed by a seemingly unsuspecting male suitor (Ben Whishaw).
However, as Einar realises that Lili is his true self, Gerda comes to terms with the resulting loss of the man she knew, eventually standing by Lili’s side as she seeks pioneering gender reassignment surgery.
The way that Tom Hooper has directed this film shows how two storylines can be intertwined, the first examining Lili’s transition and the second focusing on the hardships experienced by Gerda as she accepts her partner’s decision, demonstrating astounding support.
Making beautiful use of both Copenhagen and Paris and through the use of delicate and sometimes haunting compositions, Hooper manages to create a tone expressing the tension and loss that both Redmayne and Vikander do such a good job to depict.
Though sceptics may criticize the approach for being too predictable for the subject matter (many have compared the film unfavourably to prominent transgender cinema such as Tangerine), Hooper’s filmmaking is immaculate, moving between stunningly bleak Scandinavian landscapes and close-ups of Redmayne.
There is a quality to Hooper’s direction that deals with even the most difficult or sensitive scenes with delicacy and tact leading to a result which is both breathtaking and, in places, heart breaking.
The recognition that Redmayne achieves for this work is nothing but deserved. The struggle that he portrays translates to the screen as vulnerable and conflicting and although in no way similar to his work in The Theory of Everything, it is equally as accomplished and touching to watch.
However, Vikander is the secret weapon of this movie. She acts with an air of realness and openness. This makes it easy as an audience member to not only establish the struggle that Gerda goes through, but to also sympathise with it too.
Perhaps delivering one of the most emotive lines in the film when Lili is having her first consultation with a doctor; “I believe I am a woman,” Lili says haltingly, as if the words still strike her as somehow embarrassing, or ridiculous. Gerda turns to the doctor and says very calmly: “I believe it too.”
Although it is Redmayne’s transformation that is focused on within the film it is the performance of Vikander that really sets the film apart as poignant, beautiful and genuine.