Eddie Redmayne, following his Oscar win for playing Stephen Hawking, pulls off another transformational coup in The Danish Girl**, as Lili Elbe, the first person known to have undergone sex change surgery.
Redmayne starts out playing Danish artist Einar Wegener, who lives in a frightfully tasteful Copenhagen apartment with his pretty wife Gerda, also a painter (Alicia Vikander). One day, Gerda is impatient waiting for a model to turn up and she flirtily asks Einar to try on the tights and dainty ballet shoes and pose.
The touch of silk and the turn of his own delicate ankle seem to awaken feelings in Einar. Suddenly, he remembers he’s really a woman. Puffing on her cigarette holder, Gerda, bohemian free spirit among Copenhagen fish wives that she is, finds it all a bit saucy and encourages her husband’s new-found exploration and the pair giggle as they dash around back stage at the ballet, brushing against tutus.
Tom Hooper’s film is so aware of its delicate seriousness, velvety furnishings and immaculate lighting. There is, I’m afraid, a certain smugness of intent that sets in and frankly, it disappears up its own luvvieness.
Eddie, with his swan neck and tremulous lips, transitions into a faintly annoying, fey woman, Lili, who is utterly self-obsessed and he plays her like a sixth-former at an all boys’ school doing Blanche Dubois: “Yes, Elbe, like the river…”
Vikander does pretty well as Gerda, a tiny pillar of strength and artistic compassion – it’s her film as much as Redmayne’s, Gerda’s story of coping with change as much as Lili’s.
However, it strikes me that it’s Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts who, more than anyone here, has now undergone the complete transition – he started out as the hunkiest hulk in European cinema in Bullhead and Rust and Bone and now that British cinema has gotten hold of him this year, we’ve turned him into a right prat in wigs and finery, all silent and strong and repressed, as Oak in Far From The Madding Crowd, as the good Nazi in Suite Francaise, as the ridiculous landscape gardener in A Little Chaos, and now as Gerda’s desperately patient suitor Hans Axgil, who has to pretend constantly that he cares about the insufferable, tragic Lili just so eventually he can get in Gerda’s Danish knickers.