The Portrait of Lili

The Danish Girl

danish_girl

Director: Tom Hooper

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch, Sophie Kennedy Clark

After the phenomenal success of The Kings Speech and Les Miserables, director Tom Hooper returns to the art film, in the transgender drama The Danish Girl set in Copenhagen in 1926 starring Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Alicia Vikander (Testament of Youth, Anna Karenina).

Based upon the novel by David Ebershoff, The Danish Girl focuses on the extraordinary story of the artistic couple Gerda and Einor Wegener, a husband and wife team who rise to fame when the husband Einor decides to take on the personality of a woman Lili Elbe, who initially was an artistic experiment so that Gerda could paint her husband dressed as a woman. What Gerda soon realizes is that Einor’s penchant for silk stockings and furs goes far beyond the being the subject for a portrait.

In a series of radical costume changes, always looking absolutely gorgeous Einor slowly shed his masculine persona and becomes the dainty and gorgeous Lily Elbe, even stepping out in public at an artist’s ball, where she, Lily attracts the attention of Henrik played by Ben Whishaw (Brideshead Revisited, Spectre). What is lacking in The Danish Girl is a coherent exploration of sexuality as the evolution of Lili Elbe is devoid of sexual desire despite the advances of Henrik and the natural dissolution of conjugal activities within Einor and Gerda’s own marriage.

Eddie Redmayne transformation into Lili is truly remarkable but it is really Alicia Vikander who holds the emotional weight of the film together as she grapples to deal with the significant issue that her husband might be transsexual and soon realizes that the best way to deal with this transformation is to ultimately support this radical decision.

As a film dealing with transgender and transsexual issues, The Danish Girl is aesthetically beautiful to watch, the costumes are exquisite and the production design quite sublime, but the gender politics of the film is not fully explored to the extent that such daring shows as HBO’s Transparent are, featuring a breakout Emmy winning performance by Jeffrey Tambor or even more contemporary set films as TransAmerica or Jared Leto’s turn as the tragic Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club.

Instead, Tom Hooper offers viewers an historical insight into the extraordinary model known as Lili Elbe who sat for several fabulous portraits painted by Gerda Wegener. Redmayne’s performance should be applauded although after his career breaking role as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, he should be weary of becoming typecast as playing characters that go through immense physical and emotional suffering.

The real gem of The Danish Girl belongs to Alicia Vikander’s emotional and brave performance as Gerda Wegener. Vikander is brilliant as she really holds the emotional crux of the film together. The rest of the mostly European cast have minor roles including Belgian actor Mathias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone, Far From the Madding Crowd) as a smooth and elegant Parisian art dealer, Hans Axgil, Amber Heard (The Rum Diary) as a ballerina Ulla and Sebastian Koch as a sympathetic German doctor Warnekros.

Upon a second viewing, The Danish Girl could prove to become an LGBTI classic, as a beautiful film, its rather provocative tale could certainly become a subject of future gender studies courses. The Danish Girl is very similar to Girl with a Pearl Earring, except the portrait model is the fashionable Lili Elbe, which is played with exceptional femininity by a man.

 

 

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