We’ve all read
about, or even know, people who have led tortured lives because they believe
they were born in the wrong body. This has led to a growing acceptance of
transgender people in our society. Artist Einar Wegener felt these stirrings in
Copenhagen during the 1920s, when the concept was alien to society at large
and, more important, the surgical procedure to solve the problem was dangerous
and new. But Einar was fortunate enough to have something not everyone (then or
now) could rely on: someone who genuinely loved him, his wife Gerda.
While The Danish Girl chronicles Einar’s
mental and physical transformation into Lili Elbe, its real achievement is
dramatizing a love story between two people who genuinely care about each
other. It should be no surprise, by now, that Eddie Redmayne is an
exceptionally versatile actor: coming on the heels of his Oscar-winning
portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The
Theory of Everything, this deeply-felt, empathetic performance adds another
feather to his cap.
achievement is matched by Alicia Vikander, another actress on the rise whose
varied résumé includes A Royal Affair, Anna
Karenina, Testament of Youth, Ex Machina, and even The Man from U.N.C.L.E. She is tremendously effective as Wegener’s
devoted wife, an artist herself who can be mercurial at times. She is taken
aback when she learns of her husband’s dilemma, and not always certain how to
respond—which makes her all the more believable—but the key to her character is
her abiding love for Einar.
Coxon’s screenplay, based on a novel by David Ebershoff, makes these
characters, and the people in their orbit (including those played by Amber
Heard, Ben Whishaw, and Matthias Schoenaerts), seem real. Their evolution, as
individuals and as a couple, and the crises they face, are enacted with care
and honesty. Director Tom Hooper observes without judging and, in so doing,
encourages us to do the same.
But I will
make this judgment: Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander give two of the finest
performances of the year.