Movie review: The Danish Girl

Classification: R21
Run Time: 120 min
Genre: Drama
Rating: 2.5/5

If there is one thing that The Danish Girl gets right, it would be that it sheds light on transgender issues that have gained prominence over the past year - especially after news of former American Olympian Bruce Jenner's transition into Caitlyn Jenner.

That this raises awareness so heavy-handedly is because director Tom Hooper (who previously helmed the equally flawed film version of Les Miserables) never seems to be able to get a grip on what makes this true story of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, who underwent the world's first gender reassignment surgery, compelling and moving.

Based on Lucinda Coxon's screenplay (adapted from David Ebershoff's novel), The Danish Girl revolves around a married couple in Copenhagen in 1926: Einar (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), both of whom are painters and are very much in love with each other.

The movie also stars Amber Heard and Matthias Schoenaerts in supporting roles.

Things begin to change when Einar realises that he identifies as female internally. This knowledge results in Einar's subsequent transition to become Lili Elbe, which affects his relationship with Gerda in profound ways.

Given the time period, Einar's realisation is treated as a crime and his subsequent withdrawal from society after transitioning to Lili is thought-provoking.

Lili is ultimately given a concrete chance to undergo a ground-breaking gender reassignment surgery that could put her life in danger.

As with his previous film, Hooper's worst directorial predilections are on full display here - particularly his fondness for close-up shots which waste the beautiful production design by Eve Stewart, and Danny Cohen's lush cinematography.

Redmayne, who recently won an Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, is great as he charts Lili's emotionally painful journey with empathy and authenticity. His chemistry with Vikander is especially great.

However, the saving grace of this film is the ubiquitous Vikander (fresh off her incandescent turn as a robot in the excellent, thought-provoking Ex Machina), who deserves all the plaudits for elevating the film from the doldrums.

Her Gerda brims with humanity, quiet resilience and whose loyalty and love for her partner is heart-breaking, especially as Lili becomes increasingly occupied with her own surgery.

As such, it is a shame that the film often side-lines this relationship, when putting emphasis on it would have made the film more authentic and complex.

The Danish Girl is definitely an example of having all the right ingredients but the wrong cook.

The Danish Girl opens in cinemas on Jan 7.

See also: Movies opening this week (Jan 7 and Jan 8)