The Danish Girl: film review

Upon leaving the cinema having just watched The Danish Girl, I stood to the side of the door while I waited for my sister and couldn’t help but listen to the comments of people leaving the screening:”I didn’t realise it was based on a true story.”

“His costumes were fantastic.”

“He is so beautiful.”

“It was too weird for me.”

“A very powerful film.”

A mixed bag of responses to say the least. When the credits rolled, I had a tear in my eye. I have to agree with the last comment: it was a very moving film that I am sure will leave an impact on most people, even if the subject matter doesn’t resonate with everyone and may prove “too weird” for some.
I thought the film was far from weird. It was tragic. The story centres on a happily married couple in 1920s Copenhagen, who are both talented artists: Einar (Eddie Redmayne) is celebrated for his stunning landscapes, lauded by critics to be “in the top one” of Danish artists, and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) who paints beautiful portraits, but struggles to sell her work as she is told she hasn’t found the right subject, yet.

 

The film’s pivotal moment is when Gerda is painting a portrait of her friend, Ulla the ballerina and encourages her husband to help her out by posing for her as Ulla. Einar trys on stockings, shoes and holds a dress to his body to let it drape over his legs. At this moment, Redmayne portrays a mix of elation, fear and excitement as he caresses the fabric of the women’s clothing. At this point Ulla (the beautiful Amber Heard) walks in clasping a bunch of lilies, and declares it the perfect name for Einar’s alter ego: Lily.

 

The picturesque cinematography in the film drops hints of Lily’s presence within Einar in the early scenes of the film: Einar’s longing glances at his wife’s clothes and form, trips to the state ballet’s costume cupboard where he brushes his hands through the wardrobes and peers down at Ulla through the tutus hung from the ceiling like clouds suspended in the sky. The whole staging is beautiful, as are the characters.

 

Alicia Vikander stood out as Gerda. She encourages Einar to embrace Lily, although at first she merely thinks of it as a game. As she sees her husband slip away and Lily come to the fore, you can see her struggle with her conflicting feelings: she still loves her husband, but she wants him to be happy, even if that means he is now a she, and essentially no longer her husband.

 

Einar said that Gerda made him beautiful, but she remarks that he has always been beautiful: which is true. Eddie Redmayne is exceptionally good looking, but not handsome in a rugged manner: he is definitely pretty. He fully embraces both the role of confused Einar and plays Lily as a coy, yet determined woman who is finding her feet in the world and embarks on a quest to free herself of the body that has become her prison. Redmayne plays Lily so well, that towards the end of the film, I forgot that it was a man under the red lipstick, sweeps of eyeliner and elegantly flowing dresses.

 

The Danish Girl is essentially a love story. The story that plays out between Einar and Gerda is truly touching. Gerda’s dedication to Einar and to Lily is remarkable. You could argue that Lily is like ‘the other woman’ who comes into their relationship in attempts to tear the two apart. When Gerda finds out that Lily kissed another man, it is clear that she is more upset that her husband cheated on her, regardless of the sex of whom he kissed. As the film progresses and Gerda tells Lily, “I want to see my husband.” It is truly heartbreaking.

 

Tom Hooper has followed up Les Miserables and The King’s Speech with an equally moving film, yet again drawing on themes of determination for his characters to achieve an ultimate dream or goal. The film is beautifully shot, excellently written and superbly acted. No doubt Redmayne will be in the running for Best Actor at the Oscars after last year’s win for The Theory of Everything, but I think Alicia Vikander is one to watch. Depending on who else is in the running for Best Actress, a performance as moving as this will at least get her an Oscar nomination, having already won Hollywood Breakthrough Actress of the Year and receiving nominations at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
I would definitely recommend a trip to the cinema to see this tragic love story.

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