The Danish Girl marks the second year in a row that Eddie Redmayne has been caught up in all that award’s business due to a transformative performance. While last year’s Theory of Everything saw him playing Stephen Hawking, The Danish Girl has him step into the life of Einar Wegener, who went on to be known as Lili, after she became the first person to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
And yet again, Redmayne’s performance is incredible. His physical acting is genuinely breathtaking and the way he changes everything from his stance to the way he speaks as he undergoes this change is fascinating to watch. However, it is also an alienating performance. You can marvel in it but I, at least, cannot understand it. Redmayne’s depiction of Lili is like a complicated and personal piece of art. I look at it and appreciate it’s beauty, but I don’t understand it, I can’t.
Which leads us to the second comparison with Theory of Everything. The fact that Redmayne’s performance would be pointless without a great actor standing beside him, giving the audience their path into the film. Last year it was Felicity Jones and this time round it is Alicia Vikander, who begins 2016 (at least by UK release dates) in as terrific form as she finished the last. Her turn as Gerda, Einar’s wife, is the real heart of this film and for much of it, she is the central character. While I struggle to understand what Redmayne is going through, her pain at losing her husband is a very familiar idea and she brings the heart to this film that at times it is so sorely lacking.
For while The Danish Girl is a worthy and beautiful film, which is no surprise coming from director Tom Hooper, it is one that I struggle to love. Much like Redmayne’s performance I can appreciate its nuances but when the final credits rolled there was no inclination to go back and watch it again. It just didn’t grip me enough. It is a problem that a lot of the releases at this time of year have, as they strive for Oscar glory, and it too often leaves me cold. If it wasn’t for Vikander’s performance, I can’t help but feel that I would have come out of this film feeling a lot more negative than I did.
Despite this, The Danish Girl tells a story that is worth telling. Of a brave woman, who went through a situation that I can’t imagine. It features one breathtaking performance and one that you can fall in love with and under Tom Hooper’s eye it looks gorgeous. I may have struggled to fall for its charms, but I respected them greatly.