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The Danish Girl - Review

As Award Season frantically begins, where better to start with the film that has caught the headlines and grabbed people's attention before even buying a ticket. Tom Hooper's 'The Danish Girl' tells the story of Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), a well respected artist happily married to his loving wife and wannabe artist Gerda (Alicia Vikander). What starts off as a simple game of modelling Einar in dresses and make up leads to a reawakening of Einar discovering her true self, though her body is biologically male, on the inside she is Lili Elbe.

Hooper has a track record of dealing with sensitive subject matter, and the approach was always going to be observed with such scrutiny from critics and audiences alike, especially in a time where the topic of transgenderism is at an all time high, brought to the mainstream thanks to women like Caitlin Jenner or Laverne Cox. However, Hooper delivers another masterpiece of a film, handled with such sensitivity and fragility without ever becoming self indulgent. Redmayne excellently carries off two performances as the repressive Einar and the softly spoken, delicate and wonderfully vulnerable Lili. Lili  is shot with such soft focus that accentuates this vulnerability, her face fills the screen inn oddly shot angles that carry angelic qualities; matched with Redmayne's trademark grin, these moments are poised with such beauty. The film carries a mounted and restrained tone but still packs soft, subtle emotional moments. Such as Einar running his hands absent-mindedly along a rack of dresses, stripping naked and altering his body to look more female whilst staring in a mirror or attending a peep show in Paris to simply copy the hand movements of the model. These moments are subtle rather than drawn out as one would expect, and Hooper grasps this tone throughout the film and never lets go. The space between discovery of the self and the self Lili portrays on the outside is the space Hooper explores throughout the course of the film, and is truly heartbreaking for it.

Though Redmayne delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Einar and Lily, very clearly separating the two it is Vikander who caries the film as she turns from playful, experimental to astonishingly supportive though carrying the tragic burden of losing her husband forever. Her emotion is raw and equally as heartbreaking as Lili's story, if not more so, and Vikander delivers on every note, from unquestionable rage to energetic heartbreak. At times however, the film has a tendency to deliver a perspective looking through rose-tinted glass, especially in the last act where Lili is halfway through her transition, and she begins working in a shop whilst Gerda works on her paintings. You get the impression that everything will work out for the best, and the mourning Gerda has for her husband seems almost lacking, but this is quickly altered in the final few minutes of the film.

Hooper once again delivers a film that looks beautiful. Amongst the close-ups of Lili's china-bone features are inter-cuts of the bleak Copenhagen landscape, washed out colours that beautifully reflect Einar's paintings we see at the beginning of the film. Hooper conjures up the idea of nature, the natural world in which Lili wishes to belong, but she can only exist in paintings or in the imagination, simply reaffirming the heartbreak and tragedy of the film. Alongside this we have the moving score by Alexandre Desplat, the simplicity and the fragility of the piano working perfectly alongside the fragility of Lili determining to be heard for who she is when no-one is prepared to listen.

Redmayne will no doubt win a vast majority of awards for his performance, but truly Vikander's emotional turn steals the show. Intoxicating, strikingly subtle and as vulnerable as Lili Elbe herself, 'The Danish Girl' is a thought provoking gem.


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