‘The Danish Girl’: A sensitive and skilful portrayal

Film: “The Danish Girl”; Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Sebastian Koch, Matthais Schoenaerts and Ben Whishaw; Director: Tom Hooper; Rating: ****

“The Danish Girl” is a pseudo-biographical drama based on David Ebershoff’s 2000-released fictional novel of the same name. The novel is inspired by the 1933-released autobiography “Man Into Woman” by Lili Elbe, who was portrayed by the media as the world’s first post-operative trans-sexual.

The story is about how Einar Wegener, a Danish landscape artist transforms into Lili Elbe. The narration begins in Copenhagen in 1926, six years after the marriage of painter couple Gerda and Einar Wegener. Gerda paints portraits while Einar does the best landscapes.

Like many couples who share a profession, they provide each other with support, as well as a bit of competition. They are marvelled at by all for their mutual devotion, which combines the easy, unrestricted warmth of friendship and the heat of sexual attraction.

The drama in Lucinda Coxon’s screenplay lies in the subtlety of the romance between the couple — the innocuous experiment of pretence and obliging and the internal conflict within Einar before he decides to undergo the sex-reassignment surgery.

What keeps you hooked is how the focus of the narration seamlessly shifts from the husband to the wife and back. Every scene is enveloped in a neat nub of emotions.

The dialogues are simple and carefully balanced between modern sensibilities and the imaginary language of Old Europe, which is really just English, spoken in varied accents. Nevertheless, they are touching.

And you do feel sad when Einar pleads “It does not matter what I wear, it is Lili’s dreams”, or “Sometimes I think of killing Einar, but by doing that, I’ll kill Lili too”, during his confused state of sexuality.

The film belongs to Eddie Redmayne. After a brilliant performance as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything”, he mesmerises us with yet another impressive performance. With significant alteration to his gestures, glances, rhythm in his walk and timbre of his voice, he shows his mastery as an actor. He oscillates naturally from one gender to the other and is the best when depicting the finer, conflicting nuances of the character.

Alicia Vikander as Gerda, the anguished wife who loves her husband, complements Redmayne. Like her character, she is open and spontaneous. Her anguish and the ambivalence in her relationship is palpable on screen when she perfectly delivers ordinary lines with aplomb.

They are aptly supported by Matthais Schoenaerts as Hans, Einar’s childhood friend and an established art dealer in Paris; Sebastian Koch as the sympathetic doctor who operates upon Einar; Ben Whishaw as Henrick the self-described “romantic” who woos Lili; and Amber Heard as Ulla, the ballet dancer friend of the couple. They add the requisite layers in the sub-plots.

Visually, the look and feel of the film is simple and realistic. The metaphors like the lone bird flying over a waterbody or the scarf flying in the air are predictably standard.

But it is the period created by designer Eve Stewart along with Paco Delgado’s striking costumes and the landscapes which are captured by Danny Cohen’s cinematography, that are rich and rewarding. And so is Alexandre Desplat’s lavish score that accompanies the visuals.

The film is sensitively and skilfully handled by Tom Hooper and is definitely worth a watch.

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