Starring Eddie Redmayne. Rated PG.
Almost everything reads as forced and artificial in The Danish Girl, which decorously botches the decidedly timely story of Einar Wegener, who undertook the world’s first gender-reassignment surgery in 1930, with tragic results.
As he was in his transformative role in The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne is compellingly present here. Unfortunately, Lucinda Coxon’s script, which further fictionalizes David Ebershoff’s same-named novel, is so reductive, Redmayne barely hits the notes possible with a character of this complexity. Worse, the screenplay doesn’t allow anyone—even casual walk-ons—a single line that doesn’t point back, in neon, to the movie’s central theme.
In a tale of precocious gender fluidity, mostly set in a gorgeously shot Copenhagen, director Tom Hooper (whose Les Misérables made Redmayne a star) could have allowed some ambiguity all around. He gives roughly half the space to Einar’s devoted wife, Gerda, but the part is a troubling setback for Sweden’s Alicia Vikander, leaning on a brittle English accent (these are supposed to be Danes, anyway) and mugging her way aggressively through every scene. Other people, like Einar’s ballerina pal (Amber Heard) and his childhood crush (Rust and Bone’s Matthias Schoenaerts), come and go with little resonance in the story, which compresses a two-decade saga into a few key years.
Our central couple are introduced as starving young painters in 1926 (when both were actually over 40), but the movie shows no interest in their talents except as narrative tools. In real life, Einar’s evolution into Lili Elbe began in 1913, when—as the movie depicts—he subbed for one of his wife’s female models, instantly recognizing the call of the silk. By then, Gerda was a fabulously successful magazine illustrator, portraitist, and purveyor of flapper-era erotica in the manner of Tamara de Lempicka. What followed was the gradual realignment of a popular couple; they challenged conventions and even got involved with a nascent gay-rights group, although Gerda eventually got a divorce and married an Italian diplomat who robbed her blind—all events arguably more engaging than anything in this film’s tasteful parade of noble sufferings.