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Review: The Danish Girl

Ros Hull

A fictitious love story loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer. IMDb


Like any film that tries to tackle a subject people feel passionately about, this film has had plenty of detractors. No, it is not an accurate retelling of Lili and Gerda’s story. And it is true, Einar’s reassignment surgery was not the first, just one of the first. But this telling gives Einar/Lili and Gerda a sympathetic, relatable story.

My suggestion would be to ignore any reviews, including this one, and make up your own mind. I enjoyed it.

It is lyrical without descending into melodrama. It captures moments of utter isolation and others of fleeting joy with great beauty. And the two leads are incandescent in their roles. I have gushed about Eddie Redmayne (repeatedly and possibly somewhat inappropriately for my advanced years) but Alicia Vikander also deserves superlatives. She will be the Next Big Thing, no question. She is the vibrant heart of the film but Redmayne’s depiction of Lili is amazing. Einar is shy but Lili is like a leaf teetering on a razor blade – elegant, gently feminine and always under threat.

I loved director Tom Hooper’s arresting version of Les Mis (sorry, very punny) but my favourite movie of his is The King’s Speech. I can see the fog-shrouded gardens indicating Colin Firth’s solitary struggle echoed in the Danish countryside of this film.

But there is also a less definable quality to these pieces – I think it is a sparseness, a sort of drawing breath on film – that I really admire. There is no unneeded dialogue or overwrought acting, instead his characters look inward to a lifelong struggle that only they can surmount. However, when they do look outwards it is into the face of love.

Changing one’s gender is not something that anyone would take lightly but the director’s style here is deft. The impact on a relationship, on friends and even on the character’s working life is handled sensitively and with a degree of good manners – I don’t know what else to call it! The rejection of Gerda’s standard portraiture as women’s work but the acceptance of her paintings of Lili is handled subtly and without anger but the inference that women are inferior is there, just not shouted out in an unseemly way.

It would have been oh so very easy to make this story into a social rant, to show only the emerging Lili’s suffering at the hands of the straight establishment. Although that is still there – the saddest part of the movie is not the end, it is still the struggles with early 20th Century medicine – even radiation for heaven’s sake. But what Hooper, the author and the cast emphasis is the love Einar had for Gerda and even more importantly, that she had for him – to allow him to become the person he really was. The unsung hero is Einar’s childhood friend Hans, who stands by both of them, again, through love and acceptance.

Surely a better story to tell a fragile person questioning their identity than one only full of pain.

Ros Hull

Ros saw Star Wars and immediately wanted to fly the Millenium Falcon. Unable to do that she became a Jill-of-all-trades as her army husband whirled her around the world – and back to Canberra 10 years ago. She has worked in public programs and museum education ever since. She gained an MA in writing whilst getting two daughters through high school - both are now at university and undeniably fabulous (according to her). She can worry as an Olympic sport so she sees lots of movies instead. More about the Author

  • Kate Toyer

    As a trans woman I can say with absolute knowledge that you are one of the few reviewers who has actually understood the true beauty of this movie, that it is ultimately not about pain or sorrow but love and acceptance. Thank you.

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