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Film review: The Danish Girl – Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist in too pristine period drama

Redmayne’s Oscar-nominated portrayal doesn’t match Alicia Vikander’s turn playing his character’s wife

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 February, 2016, 6:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 February, 2016, 6:00am

A true story about the first person ever to receive gender reassignment surgery, Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl is a handsome period piece that fails on an emotional level. Eddie Redmayne plays Einar Wegener, a celebrated 1920s Copenhagen artist who gradually realises his need to become a woman. Married to fellow Bohemian painter Gerda (Alicia Vikander), Einar re-emerges in society as Lili Elbe.

Redmayne, who won an Oscar for his brilliant portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything , had been nominated again for playing Lili. But while it’s a well-meaning performance, it doesn’t boast the transformative powers of his turn as Hawking. Too often, he can be caught simpering in front of the camera, coquettish smiles covering a lack of real depth.

READ MORE: Alicia Vikander digs deep for sympathy in transgender film The Danish Girl

More worthy of her Oscar nod is Vikander, who brings real empathy to her role as Gerda – a woman who supports Lili through her traumatic and painful journey. Is she the Danish Girl of the title? Certainly, her story feels just as resonant. Good too is Matthias Schoenaerts, who plays Einar’s childhood friend Hans. Now an art dealer, who is also sympathetic to the cause, Hans’ feelings for Gerda add rich complexity to the story.

Hooper, who worked with Redmayne on Les Misérables, is an accomplished filmmaker but this feels rather too pristine. While the timing may be perfect, given the arrival of other transgender films ( Tangerine ) and TV shows (Transparent) in the zeitgeist, the execution is clumsy. Good intentions do not always a good film make – and The Danish Girl feels strangely empty.

The Danish Girl opens on February 25