The opening shot of the film sets the impression that will last to the end: this is a very painterly film. Every scene is shot artistically – you feel that you could take any individual shot from the film and hang it framed on a wall.
The film centres on two artists, Gerda and Einar Wegener, and Einar’s realisation that he is a woman who happens to have been born a man. Set in Copenhagen in 1926, a time when the world had no concept of transgender, Einar’s transformation into Lily Elbe is traumatising both for herself and for Gerda, whose happy, married life is so completely overturned as what started as a game unlocks the hidden Lily, and the man she has loved for years becomes a woman.
Eddie Redmayne has the eye-catching role as Lily, but Alicia Vikander is wonderful as Gerda (in writing this I’ve just seen she’s won the Screen Actors Guild Award).
The Danish Girl deals with an interesting subject, it’s well-acted (Oscars likely) and sumptuous to look at. Lily’s process of learning how to be a woman – how to look, how to move, how to stand, how to express emotion as a woman – is handled well, but in the end, for me, it felt more of a well-made curiosity rather than an immersive emotional experience.
There’s been some criticism of the movie from the transgender community, arguing that here was a chance to cast a transgender actor, rather than Eddie Redmayne in a dress. But if the movie’s aim is to attract an audience so that the issues raised can be considered and discussed then casting Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne is surely a better bet than an unknown (but more authentic) choice.
It certainly shows how far we’ve come in the past 90 years to move from a position where the very notion of “transgender” was inconceivable to the medical profession and the general public to one where the debate is whether the film is sufficiently trans.