Eddie Redmayne plays Einar Wegener one half of a bohemian Danish couple who, when they’re not painting portraits and what not in their arty Copenhagen studio, are experimenting with a little bit of cross-dressing.
While Redmayne’s wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) is happy to play along at first, she soon realises that hubby’s frilly fetish runs more than just skin deep. Dressed as his alter ego Lili, it’s not long before Redmayne’s ‘experimentation’ sees him necking strange men at parties and generally behaving like a right little hussy.
Looking at times variously like a cross between Ermentrude from Magic Roundabout, Andy Warhol, Nureyev and Grayson Perry, Redmayne develops a disturbing coyness which brings to mind Princess Diana in all her glory. And as Einar makes way for Lili, a permanent grin becomes etched on Redmayne’s face. Perhaps it’s just a feeling of liberation.
Based very loosely on real life events in 1920s Denmark, Lili decides to go the full monty and opt for a pioneering sex change op. Needless to say all doesn’t go too well. And…well that’s about it really.
Although this film tries hard to be sensitive and treat its cisgender topic with due reverence, one can’t help but feel there’s something missing here: namely anguish, torment and a little bit of suspense would have certainly helped.
The problem with The Danish Girl is twofold: Einar’s transformation into Lili never really causes the kind of soul searching one might have expected, nor does it really invoke the kind of prejudice and intolerance one might have expected in 1920’s Denmark.
Once Einar has made up his/her mind to swap gender, Gerda seems more than happy with her new-look transgender husband, and apart from a beating from a couple of thugs, there’s virtually no sense of how society would have responded to such an ‘odd’ couple.
Instead of suspense we do get an awful lot of Eddie Redmayne. Crikey, he practically has about 98% of the screen time! If he’s not grinning and flickering his eyelashes, he’s tucking his manhood safely away twixt his legs while ogling himself in the mirror. Talk about narcissistic.
All told, this is a serious attempt to make a sensitive film, but one that fails to go through all the gears, occasionally even threatening to stall such as when a potential suitor for Gerda appears – a sub plot that I’m afraid just puts us back in neutral.
While it’s fashionable to signal one’s astonishment at the sheer flexibility of Eddie Redmayne’s talents nowadays, if I’m honest, I have to say I found his portrayal of an early 20th century cisgender more panto dame than tortured soul.
Had the film been less obsessed with Redmayne it would have undoubtedly worked a whole lot better. As it is The Danish Girl might just leave you a little over-stuffed on Eddie and a little under-filled on drama.