Eddie Redmayne works so tough in The Danish Girl, as the painter and
pioneer sex-adjust patient Einar Wegener, who became renowned as “Lili Elbe”, that you want to sit him down, wave a towel and spray water in his mouth. It’s acting as histrionic slugging: except that Redmayne must be counter-macho for ten rounds, not punching but preening and simpering. That’s how you win trophies — or feel you win trophies — in gender reassignment roles.
It is a dire movie. Via the distorting glass of David Ebershoff’s semi-fictionalised book about Einar/Lili (which inter alia airbrushes out wife Gerda’s lesbianism), screenwriter Lucinda Coxon and director Tom Hooper generate a period drama that is all period and no drama. 1920s Denmark is a Vienna Secession-style delirium: art nouveau by the tonne, Klimt-like dresses and poses. And dialogue like mottos written about a painting’s frame or gilded speech balloons. “This surgery has never ever been attempted before,” declares, for the hard of hearing or apprehending, the surgeon professor. And “I want my husband!” emotes Alicia Vikander’s Gerda earlier, as Redmayne-Einar begins morphing into Redmayne-Lili.
Some commentators have attacked the film for casting a “cis” actor (a single comfy with his personal gender) in a “trans” function. That appears the least of The Danish Girl’s offences or failings. It is like criticising a white actor’s assumption of Othello in a Shakespeare production falling apart wherever you appear.
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