Review: The Danish Girl

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The Danish Girl is a Tom Hooper film through and through, which is to say it’s a very traditional period piece that is tonally light and striving for emotional resonance. It’s a meticulously designed, frequently melodramatic, wannabe crowd pleaser that doesn’t have a unique bone in its very fragile body. Perhaps a more concise way of putting it would be simply calling it pure Oscar bait, because unfortunately The Danish Girl is conventional filmmaking at its most beige.

The setting may be twentieth century Europe but The Danish Girl has a very twenty first century outlook on society, its political correct to the point of falseness. Transsexuality, rightly or wrongly, remains a controversial topic to this very day never mind in the 1920s in which the act of gender transition most definitely wouldn’t have been as socially acceptable as portrayed here. The film all but neglects many of the hardships that Lili Elbe faced on her journey to becoming herself, which robs the film of a genuine emotional core instead there’s a disappointing sense of glamorisation, resulting in a largely hollow experience.

Perhaps the film’s biggest misstep, other than an obsessive desire to avoid taking a single risk, is that the film refuses to critique its titular character. It’s undeniably fulfilling to see a person become who they truly are, but Lili is most definitely not a saint. She is at times extremely selfish and hurts the person she loves most, Gerda Wegener, frequently. A fact that the film never really acknowledges instead everything she does is painted in glowing sunshine. Einar Wegner needed to become Lili Elbe but she didn’t need to cause so much heartache for those close to her in the process.

Eddie Redmayne does a stellar job in the central role of Einar Wegner/Lili Elbe, it’s a less complex performance than expected but this is largely due to Lili being so sure of herself, Alicia Vikander however really steals the show as Einar’s wife. Gerda finds herself torn between holding onto the man she loves and accepting that that man never really existed in the first place, he is merely a smokescreen behind which Lili was hiding. Whenever The Danish Girl focuses on her is when it comes closest to being truly moving and it’s a shame that the film isn’t told more prominently from her far more compelling lens. Vikander gives the most human performance of the film and if anybody deserves awards recognition for their work here it’s most definitely her.

Tonally the film is light and airy but it’s also more than a little bit decadent, it feels like a film of little consequence the closing text that affirms what an inspiration Lili became for future transsexuals feels almost like parody as none of that importance has been portrayed on celluloid. The Danish Girl is not an especially long film but it feels like one, the washed out oil painting style colour palette doesn’t help the film remain engrossing throughout either. The film’s desire to offend literally nobody results in a stilted picture, it’s the cinematic equivalent of never taking a boat out of the harbour sure you’re perfectly safe but it’s hardly a memorable or compelling experience.

The best filmmakers take creative risks and Tom Hooper doesn’t take a single one here, in fact more risks are taken in the average walk to the shops than are present in the whole running time of this utterly predicable biopic. The Danish Girl is a perfectly acceptable film, it’ll offend nobody however it will resonate with a similar number of people as well. It’s only the performances, which are generally of a high calibre, that are truly remarkable in every other category the film is so unnoteworthy it would be impressive if it wasn’t so frustrating.