I am ashamed to say that I still haven’t seen the Theory of Everything, yet, having now seen Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl. Based on a true story, this tender film breezes through the tormented life of Scandinavian couple Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda (Alicia Vikander), and Lili’s transformation from a transgender to a transsexual. Yet during the 1920s it was a dangerous time to be transgender, let alone homosexual – the concepts (transgender; transsexual) hardly existed in those days.
The film follows landscape artist Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) stroking fur jackets, concealing silk dresses underneath men’s clothing and, eventually, strutting like a woman. Hiding behind tutus, and looking at his naked reflection in the mirror, imagining what life would be like without a penis, Hooper and screen play writer Lucinda Coxon reveal a pretty woman that had been locked up and buried deep inside a man’s body. Yet all of this begins with Wegener’s wife, asking him to sit as a ballet dancer for her painting.
Holding up a luxurious dress and wearing embroidered shoes and stockings, he is immediately taught how to apply lipstick and how to wear a wig in public. Yet that’s where it goes downhill. On pretending to be Wegener’s cousin, Lili meets Henrik (Ben Whishaw) who believes Lili to be a woman and by that point it’s too late – Gerda’s husband has kissed a man. Or was it Lili?
However, despite how shocking this may seem for a devoted wife, Gerda sticks by Lili even when she doesn’t agree with her desire to fast track her transformation with another surgery (a womb transplant) shortly after her first. The love, patience and tenaciousness of Wegener’s wife is poignantly preserved by Vikander’s hard and durable portrayal of Gerda. Though she is ambitious, yet failing as an artist, she finds the time to love her husband knowing what she is effectively losing.
Jamie Redmayne is compelling as Lili Elbe, the truer side of artist Wegener. The most touching scene is seeing him secretly attend a Parisian peep show, not to watch a woman but to learn how to be a woman, through mimicking her physical behaviour; the placing of one’s gentle hand along their soft face, the intense glare, pouting of lips and touching of one’s female sex.
In many ways the film is sensual, yet far from indecent; it’s quite easy to get wrapped up in Wegener’s and Gerda’s heartbreaking story in Hooper’s glossy cinematography. The artistic influences underpinning the couple are shared through mesmerising panoramic shots of Paris with finely focused scenes of Copenhagen’s pastel-lit architecture.
I believe Redmayne and Vikander deserve individual prizes for their uncompromising performances. The Danish Girl is such a beautiful film. By the end of it, I felt proud to be a woman, especially in a time when it is far more acceptable to be transgender or transsexual, compared to the unprogressive past.