The Danish Girl

Directed By: Tom Hooper

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch, and Amber Heard

On paper, The Danish Girl has a winning formula.  We've got the filmmaker behind The King's Speech and Les Misérables directing Oscar winner and future Harry Potter torchbearer Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) and current Hollywood "it girl" Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, Testament of Youth, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.).  All that being said, the subject matter has a limited audience.  Personally, I can’t say that I’m itching for a history lesson on the first sex change operation.  Nonetheless, I respect everyone involved with this production and the seriousness with which they’re tackling this story and have opted to review the film.  Having now seen The Danish Girl, I can say that the film’s winning formula remains just that, a formula.

For six years, Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Gerda (Vikander) have been happily married.  Both painters, Einar spends his days painting the violet trees that served as the background of his childhood while Gerda puts together a portfolio in the hopes of making her big break in the industry.  Gerda's friend Oola (Amber Heard) has been serving as a model for some of her paintings.  When Oola is running late one day, Gerda jokingly has Einar put on some female clothing to pose for a painting on which she's working.  Though seemingly harmless, the joke continues on long afterward to the extent that Gerda and Einar plan to introduce the world to Einar's "cousin" Lili at a social function down the road.  Little do they know that Lili is breaking out of her cocoon and has no plans of ever retreating back inside.  Things get complicated for Einar and Gerda when Lili starts spending time with Henrik (Ben Whishaw), a man he/she meets at a party.

I can’t fault The Danish Girl for poor production value.  With Tom Hooper at the helm, his stylistic flourishes are in full effect in this historical drama.  It’s crystal clear from the lovely melodic score, the period perfect costume and set design, and the impressive makeup used to transform Eddie Redmayne into Lili.  All that being said, I have just one question that pretty much sums up my thoughts on The Danish Girl.  Where are the Danish accents?  For a film depicting a number of Danes who walked among us a century ago, I don’t hear a single Danish accent in the film.  All I hear are American and British accents, and there’s something really wrong with that considering there are no major characters of either nationality in the film.  The American and British actors should have employed these accents as part of delving into their respective characters, and Tom Hooper should have held their feet to the fire on this.  That’s a basic expectation of acting.  Instead, we have what would otherwise be a trivial detail undermining the authenticity of Hooper’s film altogether as a very noticeable flaw.

I'm no expert on the history of the transgender cause, but I'm a quick learner.  With this in mind, I have several concerns regarding the authenticity of Hooper's The Danish Girl that go well beyond accents.  First and foremost, the persecution at play in the film is minimal, and I suspect the real Einar faced more than his fair share of bullies in his time as Lili.  Hopper certainly doesn't do this aspect of the story justice.  I also am concerned that Hooper takes too much cinematic license with the marriage of Einar and Gerda to the detriment of the film.  No wife would help her husband through all of this if she truly desired men.  Doing so would only add insult to injury.  Interestingly enough, history tells us that Gerda was a lesbian, but The Danish Girl somehow fails to address this fact.  It’s a troubling historical inaccuracy that undermines the movie.  Finally, I'm not so sure about the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde depiction of Einar's transition into Lili.  Hooper makes it seem more like a personality disorder than a genuine desire of this man to be a woman.  This kind of superficial treatment of such a complex, sensitive topic doesn't really work.
Beyond the mysteriously missing Danish accents, our two leads give compelling performances as Einar and Gerda Wegener respectively.  After all, The Danish Girl is a film built around showcasing their acting chops.  Fresh from his Oscar win last year and reuniting with his Les Misérables director, Eddie Redmayne gives yet another incredibly nuanced performance as Einar Wegener.  He starts out as a man with effeminate qualities and transitions his character into a full blown transgender in a delicate way in spite of the narrative hindering him.  He walks like a woman and talks like a woman in what is another impressive performance to add to his growing filmography.  For her part as Gerda Wegener, Alicia Vikander tops off an incredible breakout year with a heartfelt performance that resonates.  Digging deep emotionally, Vikander brings grace and elegance to a character who suffers a terrible indignity — abandonment by her spouse both physically and emotionally.  It's not her best performance this year, but it certainly deserves to be lauded.

The Danish Girl
is undoubtedly a mixed bag.  I have issues with some of the liberties Hooper takes with the story, but Redmayne and Vikander deliver strong performances worth seeing.  In the end, my issues with Hooper’s vision have to take center stage in my rating.  Alas, The Danish Girl gets a strong 0.09% rating.  Have a few Danish martinis with this one.