Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw
Danish artist Einar Wegener (Redmayne) lives a successful life and is happily married with fellow artiest Gerda (Vikander). After posing in women’s clothes for one of Gerda’s paintings it reignites a belief deep inside Einar that he is indeed a woman. He becomes Lili, and despite the obvious heartbreak it is causing her, Gerda helps Einar adopt to the role of Lili and to be one of the first ever people to receive sex reassignment surgery and become the person and gender that deep down he always felt he truly was.
I am sure it is no accident that Tom Hooper’s films are released during awards season, and as good as The King’s Speech and Les Misérables may well have been, they did both feel like they were made to win awards, especially the former and its extremely diligent Oscar bait narrative structure. Well, there is no denying that the true story that The Danish Girl is based on deserves to be told, the actors put in committed performances and it is at times a deeply moving and affecting film, but there however is no escaping the fact that the luscious set design, the stunning visuals and the way the story is told absolutely reek of “for your consideration”.
Well, the BAFTAs have only recognised the acting and given it a token nomination for Best British film, and the Oscars have followed suit, which perhaps gives Hooper and his crew pause for thought that maybe instead of seemingly focussing first and foremost on winning awards, that they could have given the story even more emotional depth.
In some ways it is hard to fault the aesthetics of The Danish Girl, but that is almost part of its ultimate problem that prevents it from being a truly great film; the gentle camerawork, sumptuous scenery, the fact a character is seemingly crying every other scene and Alexandre Desplat’s wonderfully composed but predictably generic score basically constantly says to the audience; “Your heartstrings will be seriously tugged at for the next two hours and you will feel upset whether you like it or not!”.
There is no denying that there are plenty of genuinely emotional moments throughout The Danish Girl and it is engaging and very watchable from start to finish, but sometimes it just feels a little too forced. Everything does feel a little too gentle and delicate, and therefore safe and the melancholic and sombre tone of the film often boarders on twee. Ultimately most of the true emotion comes more from the fact it is a true story and some of the broader and pertinent themes it encompasses than how it is actually depicted. However the debates and discussions that this film has brought about more than justify its existence.
The performances too are to be commended; Eddie Redmayne is in my view yet to prove that he has much range (Jupiter Ascending, anyone?) but is spot-on casting for the title role. Admittedly it does at times feel like he is trying a little too hard with the awkward grins and uptight body language, but it is a committed, physical performance that does evoke genuine sympathy and engagement with his character. However the main star of the film is Alicia Vikander; her character does in some ways have a more complex emotional journey to depict, and Vikander is once again exceptional and does add another crucial element to the story and our emotional engagement with it. However why she has been nominated for an Oscar as a ‘supporting’ actress is beggar’s belief!
As the story develops there are no real surprises and Hooper and his crew do not take any particular risks, but though everything always feels a little too neat and tidy, there is no denying that The Danish Girl is an emotionally engaging film, but also an important one. Just next time Tom, take a few risks and show us your raw, edgier side as a director and you may produce a masterpiece!
Though it is certainly not even an attempt at a departure from Tom Hooper’s usual award-friendly style, with two committed leading performances and a story that deserves to be told The Danish Girl still emerges as an emotionally engaging and important film.