Talk about hitting the zeitgeist. The Danish Girl, which details the story of the first known transgender in the 1920s, opened over the weekend to very good box office numbers in its limited platform release in New York and Los Angeles. Some of that might be attributable to its hot-button topic, which has made headlines recently with among others Caitlyn Jenner and the Emmy-winning Amazon series Transparent. But make no mistake about it, at its heart, The Danish Girl is really a love story and that is why it works so well.
As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), this is not exploitation on the part of the filmmakers since they have been trying to bring this story to the screen for 15 long years — long before it became a fashionable mass audience point of discussion. It is clearly kismet that it all somehow came together at this moment in time. In fact, Gail Mutrux (who produced with Anne Harrison, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and director Tom Hooper) was rejected for financing repeatedly and went to more than 70 directors until the screenplay (adapted from David Ebershoff’s book) by Lucinda Coxon got into Hooper’s hands as he was preparing what would turn out to be his Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech. It was two years later, during the making of Les Miserables, that he slipped Eddie Redmayne the script. Clearly this has been percolating for a while.
Whatever the fate of the film, the results Hooper and company have achieved on the screen are well worth the wait and perseverance. The true story centers on young married couple Einar (Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), two artists who live in Copenhagen. One day, Gerda decides to get Einar to pose as a woman for one of her paintings when her model goes AWOL. This seemingly innocent act sets Einar off in a surprising direction as he slowly discovers he was actually destined to live as a woman. He adopts the name Lili and embarks on an unheard-of effort to have an operation to fully transition into living life as Lili in every way. Through all of this, Gerda proves her undying love was not based on anything other than what Lili is inside as a person.
It’s a heartbreaking tale of unconditional love and given enormous power through the performances of both Redmayne and Vikander, a stunning Swedish actress who is in about five other films this year. Among the supporting cast, Matthias Schoenaerts turns up as Einar’s boyhood friend who sparks a bit of a triangle as he tries to help comfort Gerda, while also being an understanding friend to Lili/Einar. One scene that is particularly fascinating is when Gerda takes Lili out for a test run at a ball and tries to pass her off as her female cousin. There, Henrik (Ben Whishaw) becomes more than intrigued by the cousin in ways Gerda might never have imagined.
Redmayne is remarkable in the slow, subtle ways he transforms himself into Lili. Hooper keeps it real at all times with a story that needed delicate balance to pull off. The director is helped enormously by cinematographer Danny Cohen, who also did exemplary work in Room this season; production designer Eve Stewart; costume designer Paco Delgado; and makeup/hair designer Jan Sewell, who also helped transition Redmayne into Stephen Hawking last year. Alexandre Desplat has contributed another gorgeous music score as well.
Do you plan to see The Danish Girl? Let us know what you think.