Thursday, 7 January 2016
Review: The Danish Girl
The Danish Girl
Cert: 15 / 120 mins / Dir. Tom Hooper / Trailer
The UK's weather may be all over the place at the moment, but the one thing you can rely on in January is the arrival of All The Important Films, as the notoriously forgetful awards panels are presented with a fresh array of worthy contenders for middle-aged audiences who talk in the cinema. Perched in a respectable position on the ladder of consideration is Tom Hooper's new film, The Danish Girl. The (dramatised) historical biopic follows the landscape artist Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), who was married and in his thirties when he fully realised that he should actually be a she. Einar gradually adopted the female persona of Lili Elbe, and with the support of his wife and portait artist, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), went on to became the world's first patient to undergo gender re-assignment surgery.
Now for obvious reasons the film isn't exactly a barrel of laughs, but it doesn't spend its considerable run-time wringing its hands in melodramatic despair, either. The Danish Girl is more a study of the relationship between Lili and Gerda, as it changes irreversibly with their decisions. Keeping this in mind, the two central performances are the most focused here, and while both are hauntingly powerful, Alicia Vikander is actually more interesting to watch than Eddie Redmayne. That's not to put Eddie down at all, but while Einar/Lili is introverted and conflicted by nature (captured fantastically by Redmayne), the character arc itself is still relatively linear (indeed, it's the very reason the audience are sitting there watching). Gerda, on the other hand, is far more vocal in her coping mechanisms while being equally conflicted, and there's a level of unpredictability which allows Vikander to finally show off her Actual Acting Chops.
Away from the main duo however, Tom Hooper's direction looks a little more slack. Although the costumes and sets reflect 1920s Europe authentically enough (with some carefully selected photography and framing of the exterior shots, of course), much of the supporting cast's acting - as earnest as it is - feels distinctly modern in its tone and mannerisms. I almost get the impression that as long as they learned their lines, they could interpret them how they wanted (Amber Heard's wandering accent being a prime example). The passage of time is also another occasional sticking point, as the central plot unfolds at a very measured pace anyway, then a line of exposition might tell us it's six months later with little else to indicate this than Gerda having a full exhibition's worth of portraits which we haven't seen her create.
Also on my grievance-list for the film is the amount of medical and legal detail which isn't given surrounding the surgery itself. The two part operation is explained in overview (and obviously we don't need detail there), but there's no mention of how Lili is going to become legally female in a society in which most of the medical profession wants her to be institutionalised as gay, schizophrenic or both. And that's without mentioning the a moment late in the film where the question is raised over whether Lili will be able to have children once her treatment is complete. "Oh... I don't know", she replies wistfully, giving the impression that she's asked precisely no questions of her surgeon prior to undergoing a world-first, largely experimental procedure, which would be a bit like getting a builder to knock you up a house without knowing how many bathrooms there'll be.
But as I said, that's not what the film's about; The Danish Girl is really a relationship-study, and a very good one at that. It was never going to be easy to make a film about such a complex subject, but for all my perceived gripes, it isn't simplistic or patronising.
Although I am deducting a point for the ham-fistedness of that final scene, yes ;)
The Theory of Everything (although I think that was a better film), or maybe The Railway Man.
Only if you're desperate to see it soon.
The Danish Girl is more of a Sunday night DVD.
I think it achieves some of it, brilliantly. Other areas need a more focused touch.
In Alicia Vikander's case, this should be at the top of her CV, yes.
Level 1: The Danish Girl stars Pip 'Kaplan' Torrens as well as Miltos 'Un-named (as yet) bar patron' Yerolemou from off of The Force Awakens.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.