Movie Review: ‘THE DANISH GIRL’ – A Marital Drama/Identity Crisis For The Ages


James Cole Clay // Film Critic

THE DANISH GIRL | 120 min | R
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Amber Heard, Ben Whislaw 

THE DANISH GIRL is English filmmaker Tom Hooper’s best mainstream work to date since taking the Academy Awards by storm for the film THE KING’S SPEECH back in 2011. Although that film gained wide-acclaim, it was a bit stiff and insisted on a certain level of importance that was unearned by the end credits. The same could be said of THE DANISH GIRL, which takes shiny beacon of the trans-movement that has found its way into mainstream culture. That’s good thing for sure, but does a movie need to prey upon this for a social justice cause that has no relevance to the filmmakers involved? The correct answer would be no, mainly because that would be exploiting a group of people who have been marginalized in the Western world… since… forever.

Hooper doesn’t do that as he directs the story of Danish artist Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), who seeks out to be one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery in the 1930s and transform into his true self, a woman named Lili Elbe. Since this film is based upon a novel of the same name and not a biography, Hooper and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon are able to take some liberties with the story that tribute the late artist and provide them with some creative agency.

Just a taste of the gorgeous cinematography in THE DANISH GIRL (photo courtesy of Focus Features)

Just a taste of the gorgeous cinematography in THE DANISH GIRL (photo courtesy of Focus Features)

These are the roles that awards chasers are meant for. Redmayne is stooped in the prestige of the role that will certainly give him another Academy Award nomination, but a win is most likely out of the question. Once again he sheds all vanity as he transforms into Lili right before our eyes. What started as a bit of role play between Einer and his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), turns into an identity crisis after a unplanned romantic encounter at a party with a gentleman (played nicely by Ben Whishaw). We get the chance to see Redmayne discover how to play a woman while Einar discovers his identity as Lili. He studies the way women move, from their mannerisms to how they order groceries at shoppe, with Hooper at the wheel the entire time.

THE DANISH GIRL is the kind of film that is a bit annoying to hear about at first, something didn’t seem right, but this is a well-intentioned project anchored by a story that becomes an infectious marital drama– and quite possibly the cutest on-camera dog in years.

What works the best is the psychological understanding you receive as a viewer about what it could have been like for a transgender individual nearly a century ago. From being accused of schizophrenia, to invasive doctors appointments and potentially becoming a social pariah this is some harrowing stuff to be subjected to. Vikander is who grounds the film, she struggles to let go of the man who was her husband, yet she’s trying to find her own identity as an artist as well.

No matter how trying the subject matter may be its a pure delight to see Redmayne’s face as he runs his fingers through silk stockings and truly discover who Einar was meant to be. And Hooper along with his cinematographer Danny Cohen photograph the film with a stilted view when Einar is on-camera and with more elegant movements when Lili has taken shape. While the film has flaws that hinder it from being fully gripping (the last act in particular), Hooper has made a dazzling picture that is just another notch on his shiny awards season belt.

THE DANISH GIRL opens today.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.