THE DANISH GIRL (Universal)
Dir. Tom Hooper, Script. Lucinda Coxon
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander
Plot: In 1920s Denmark, a landscape painter (Redmayne) dares to find their true self with the support of their wife (Vikander) and against a world who thinks they’re mad.
Note: This was supposed to be a review of The Hateful Eight, but due to ‘technical difficulties’ I was unable to watch it; don’t worry though, a review is coming.
A year ago, The Theory of Everything provided Eddie Redmayne an Academy Award for Best Actor, and became a major economic success in the meantime. So naturally, when Theory producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner were looking for their next stab at the awards season, ‘do the same thing as last time’ was probably the most repeated phrase at the discussion table. And with their new prestige picture The Danish Girl, directed by Les Miserables helmer Tom Hooper, the British producers have proved that prestige movies can just as easily be factory-manufactured as franchise pictures.
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First order of business – get Redmayne back. And without the current Oscar holder on board, The Danish Girl wouldn’t be in the awards conversation this year. Playing a challenging and transformative role, Redmayne pays particular attention to the differing mannerisms of Einar Wegener and Lili Elbe, the female counterpart of Einar that starts to take him over. His subtlety and nuance in both roles is impressive – Redmayne continues to prove himself as a remarkable physical actor. His performance might not be quite as impressive as his Oscar-winning one last year, but expect his name to be in and around for the Best Actor chase.
Second aspect lifted directly from Theory – a woman to provide limitless love and care. However, with Felicity Jones busy in a galaxy far, far away (I can understand her running off to star (get it) in Rogue One) Swedish breakout Alicia Vikander gets the job. Many pundits have been raving about the starlet since her breakout in Alex Garland’s magnificent sci-fi Ex Machina, and some have been claiming she outshines herself as committed wife and friend Gerda. In all honesty, I feel Vikander doesn’t quite reach that level, and while she has moments in which she is dynamite, I don’t feel that her performance quite reaches Redmayne’s strength.
ALICIA VIKANDER HAS BEEN TALKED ABOUT AS A SERIOUS OSCAR CONTENDER PLAYING REDMAYNE’S LOVING WIFE
Third aspect – romanticise challenging subject matter. Of course, The Danish Girl tells the story of the first woman ever to undergo gender reassignment surgery, and focuses on the psychology of transgender women. At the moment, the subject of transgenderism is definitely a hot topic, and I feel like now is the right time to create challenging films that openly discuss transgenderism without any padding or euphemism. I therefore find it really unfortunate to say that The Danish Girl decides to present a more audience-friendly narrative on the subject, but without the necessary sensitivity from Hooper, who has done far better work. Hooper focuses on the consequences of Lili’s change heavily, more so than the positivity Lili finds within herself when accepting herself – this makes the ending sentiment, which also feels poorly handled, feel out of character.
Admittedly, the subject The Danish Girl tries to tackle and normalise for a general audience is a far more daunting prospect than showing Hawking’s disabilities back in Theory – but the film’s inoffensiveness feels like a cop-out more than anything else. The Danish Girl makes a lot of elements work, and on a technical level is an impressive production that should do well in the make-up and costume races. But, Redmayne and Vikander’s performances exempt, The Danish Girl suffers from familiarity and an inconsistent direction that I feel tries to skirt around its main issue without tackling the subject with any gravitas. If the Oscars are meant to award daring filmmaking each year, then The Danish Girl should be disqualified for being against the spirit of the contest.