THE talented Eddie Redmayne shows that delivering a challenging portrayal of a real-life figure as with Stephen Hawking was not going to be a one-off, as he reunites with Les Miserables director Tom Hooper for The Danish Girl.
The film focuses on the true life story of Danish artist Einar Wegener (Redmayne) who unable to embrace the male gender she was born in, chose to live life as a woman, before becoming one of the first to undergo a sex change.
As the film begins, Einar is happily married to fellow artist Gerda (the equally talented Alicia Vikander), with both having mixed success in their works. We see Einar displaying a successful new work, while Gerda finds herself failing to sell her portraits to a local art collector.
A cycle of events however unfold when Einar realizes that her life is more comforting when shown as a woman named Lili, even after undergoing unsuccessful treatment to cure the lifestyle. A potential suitor Henrik (Ben Whishaw), unaware of Lili’s real identity, displays feelings for her, whilst at the same time, Gerda struggles to cope with the fact that her husband is increasingly changing in lifestyle.
With support from Gerda, Einar takes the first steps to going through sex reassignment surgery with the help of surgeon (Sebastian Koch), more than aware of the risks involved for what was deemed experimental in the 1930s.
While the performances of Redmayne and Vikander are impressive, the same can’t be said for the film as a whole. Hooper plays the film as relatively interesting in parts but not enough to make the film work, even in a general sense.
The scenes depicting Einar’s attempts at treatment to remove himself from a lifestyle deemed perverse by the doctor treating her help elevate the intensity that the subject can bring. By focusing on the public ignorance that such attitudes would have had for its time, one looks at it as an interesting scenario with regards to the perspective of people from outside.
Looking at the ways in which the relationship that Lili undergoes with Henrik is depicted also makes for slight intrigue. The refusal to succumb to temptation on several occasions allows the film to display a quiet look at theorizing the ways that Einar’s lifestyle will be reflected upon society, but more for the marriage to Gerda.
As the film progresses, the pained struggle of Gerda as she struggles to adjust to her husband’s transition helps the sympathetic and reliable performances from Redmayne and Vikander but from storyline perspective, it doesn’t go far enough.
By looking at one sequence which depicts Gerda’ heartbreak at wanting her husband to return when he chooses to spend an evening as Lili, the use of performance for what is there entertains but that is about it. Where it should lead to is avenues that build upon this tension but instead it plays as a drama lacking scale and not sustaining a required amount of engagement.
Reminding us that he has disappointed in the past with The Damned United, Hooper adds drama that goes too long in its screen time without proper enjoyment and whenever there is a sense of something interesting, the amount of time is not large enough. In fact, one can’t help but theorise that with characters and expressions being toned down slightly, the film would have been better off being fifteen to twenty minutes shorter.
Regarding its detail of imagery, though the opening sequences depict genuinely beautiful landscape as does its location footage, there are times when Hooper uses the camera which play as going too far to get a reaction instead of detailing with justifiable substance.
One particular scene, though expressing the bravery of Redmayne’s performance, does that where Einar studies himself in a mirror. Unfortunately, all it can do is bring to mind a certain scene from The Silence of the Lambs and argue why it shouldn’t have been done in the first place.
It does carry two good performances from Redmayne and Vikander, though nothing outstanding, but the end result is something that would have been better if done differently and represents a tumble for its director.