February 20, 2019

The Danish Girl (2015)
Grade: 75/100

Director: Tom Hooper
Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts

What it's about. A based-on-a-true-story biopic on the marriage between two painters, Gerda Wegener and her transgender husband, Einar/Lili. Set in Denmark during the late 1920s.

Gerda (Alicia Vikander) at first encourages, then is distressed, by her husband's quest for gender identity. Einar (Eddie Redmayne) at first cross-dresses, then has a fling with the captivated Henrik (Ben Whishaw). Gerda turns to advice from her free-thinker friend Ulla (Amber Heard), who suggests kindly Doctor Warnekros (Sebastian Koch), a pioneer in sex change surgery, a path that would risk Lili's life.

Meanwhile, Gerda's career (as a painter of Lili portraits) flourishes, to the delight of her art dealer, Rasmussen (Adrian Schiller). Another art dealer, Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts) shows up as a childhood friend of Einar and a love interest for Gerda.

How I felt about it. When evaluating historical fiction, the first question that must be asked is, "How accurate is it?" Particularly since the film is based on a novel, instead of a non-fiction biography.

Discrepancies arise promptly. For example, Gerda was 44 when Einar/Lili had his/her sex change operations. The actress playing Gerda was 26 when The Danish Girl was released. Lili did not die after the second surgery, but a year later, three months after her fourth operation, when her body rejected a uterus transplant. Lili was not the first person to have sex change surgery. Gerda stopped seeing Lili a year before the latter's death. Gerda was purportedly a lesbian.

The upshot of all the artistic license to the Gerda/Lili relationship is that Vikander, as Gerda, becomes more attractive and sympathetic than she likely was in real life. The filmmakers' vision was redeemed when the movie was warmly received by critics, and Vikander won a slew of festival awards and nominations, including the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Indeed, Vikander steals the show. It is supposed to be a movie about Einar/Lili, and thus the focus should be on Eddie Redmayne's character turn. Instead, the movie becomes a paean of Gerda's unconditional love and support for her increasingly troubled spouse.

But what matters is that the film works. Certainly, Vikander's constant and comely presence makes the movie watchable for men, who would otherwise bolt once it becomes clear that Einar is a pansy. And it really is a sumptuous movie: the cinematography is beautiful, as are the costumes and art design. We can roll our eyes at the bedroom scenes between Gerda and her transgender hubby, but this is not The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It's classy stuff.

How others will see it. Director Tom Hooper's career began in British television, but he rose to the top of his field with The King's Speech (2010), which won four Oscars, including the biggies Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor. His version of Les Misérables was another success, so the world was ready for the politically correct The Danish Girl.

The film was hardly a box office smash in the U.S. But it does have 143K user votes at imdb.com. User ratings from males (6.9 out of 10) confirm a mixed reception. Female viewers, who find the subject less threatening to their gender identity, grade it higher at 7.5 out of 10. The user reviews nearly uniformly praise sexy Alicia Vikander, but the ick factor is too much for many.