“The Danish Girl”
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality and full-frontal nudity
Running time: 120 minutes
Distributor: Focus Features
In 2015, Eddie Redmayne won the Best Actor Oscar for his poignant portrayal of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.” While Eddie earned the picture’s only Oscar, he really owed a debt of gratitude to Hawking as well as his nominated co-star Felicity Jones.
After all, she did a terrific job as his wife, Jane, in service of a character-tale turn which focused more on the unfortunate arc of the couple’s ill-fated relationship than on the wheelchair-bound genius’ contributions to the field of theoretical physics. Furthermore, Hawking himself imbued the production with an air of authenticity by allowing his impersonator to use the actual synthesized voice he’s relied upon since being crippled by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
In “The Danish Girl,” Redmayne plays another icon who is virtually upstaged onscreen by an intriguing spouse. Here, he plays Einar Wegener aka Lili Elbe (1882-1931), a Danish artist best remembered as a pioneer in the transgender movement.
Directed by Oscar-winner Tom Hooper (for The King’s Speech), the film was adapted from David Ebershoff’s novel of the same name. The book is based on a fictionalized account of Lili’s life, although her sexual reassignment surgery is factual.
Redmayne’s androgynous appearance helps the movie immeasurably, as he is very convincing as a female. And the picture couldn’t be more timely, given the culture’s embrace of Bruce Jenner’s transformation into Caitin.
The picture’s point of departure is Copenhagen in the Roaring Twenties, which is where we find Einar and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) both plying their trade as aspiring artists. Her preference is portraiture, while he’s only been inspired to paint the same desolate landscape marked by a clump of spindly, barren trees.
The plot thickens after Gerda suggests he serve as a stand-in for the beautiful model (Amber Heard) she was supposed to paint that day. Einar dons female attire and finds himself enjoying the experience more than expected.
Next thing you know, he’s secretly slipping out into public in drag and even attends a swinging soiree where he attracts an ardent admirer (Ben Whishaw) ostensibly unaware of Lili’s true gender. The pair’s ensuing courtship eventually mushrooms into passion, and the scandalous infidelity understandably puts a strain on Einar and Gerda’s marriage.
Nevertheless, the cinematic adventure’s raison d’etre remains the historic decision to undergo the world’s first sex change operation. Redmayne would be the favorite to win another Academy Award for Einar’s seamless metamorphosis into Lili, if he hadn’t just netted one a year ago.