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Two Dazzling Performances in “The Danish Girl”

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.

The Danish Girl

Courtesy of Focus Features

His 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.

Lucinda 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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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