The Danish Girl, review: ‘Tasteful, safe, dull’

10:23 30 December 2015

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl


Eddie Redmayne’s turn as Lili Elbe, who underwent the first ever gender re-alignment surgery, is too polite to generate intensity, says Michael Joyce.

2015 was the year the wider public got a better understanding of what the T in LGBT stood for. So what better way to mark this raise in awareness than to have a nice, tasteful British film about the subject.

Being a nice, tastefully-made British film it is, of course, a period drama and Based On A True Story, that of Einer Wegener (Redmayne), a Danish painter who underwent the first ever gender re-alignment operation in 1931. Happily married to painter Gerder (Vikander), the pair indulge in a bit of cross dressing after which he develops a female persona, Lili, who eventually takes over.

The advantage of being nice and tasteful is that it is very discrete about the whole surgical procedure – you don’t see, or feel, a thing. It also means the film is prepared to take the time to try and outline what it is to feel an outcast within your own skin, and to show Gerder’s torment at watching the man she loves retreat from her and to be in some measure an accomplice to that – she first gets him to wear stockings to sit in for a model who fails to turn up for a sitting; she encourages him to dress as a woman at a party and reinforces the Lili persona with a series of sketches and paintings that make her reputation as an artist.

The downside of being nice and tasteful and British is that the film is inordinately dull, a two hour talking shop about a sex change. While Vikander radiates as Gerder, Redmayne offers up the same coy little smiles throughout. Almost all of the film is people talking in rooms, usually the two stars. Such a limited focus needs to generate some intensity, but the movie is too placid and languid for that. Its like a genteel retread of Cronenberg’s version of The Fly – a couple who are stuck together in the same living quarters as the man disintegrates after an experiment goes wrong. Except he doesn’t turn into an insect but a blushing spinster.

On general release Jan 1.

Check out for reviews of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Waltar Matahu’s A New Leaf and The Company We Keep.

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