FILM REVIEW: The Danish Girl
Depending on which way you choose to look at it, The Danish Girl can be considered a masterpiece or an absolute disaster.
The former argument is based around the beautiful pacing of this romantic drama, slow, brooding, and romantic, as Lili Elbe’s powerful story is told. It has the visual depth of a classic painting, its greens and blues as warm as director Tom Hooper’s previous film The King’s Speech.
It also wins points in the relationship forged between Eddie Redmayne’s Lili, and Alicia Vikander’s Gerda. Their glances hold a thousand questions, and only a few are answered. In fact, the central love story overrides Elbe’s plot almost completely.
It turns this true story, of one of the first transgender people to have gender reassignment surgery, into a mystery, and this is where the film begins to falter. Lucinda Coxon’s screenplay, despite a few brief quips that Lili’s gender dysphoria did, indeed, come “from inside”, focuses too strongly on clothing and gender presentation. It’s easy to leave The Danish Girl having learnt more about 1920s fashion than transgender history.
And it seemed inevitable, as a film made entirely by cisgender people. Lili Elbe’s story could have made a touching, vital queer film, but instead it has been reduced to a- very well produced and shot- educational video by and for heterosexual, cisgender people about what it’s like to be trans.
Perhaps that’s why Carol, a film also dependent on glances between lovers, and softly-coloured period scenes, hits the mark better than The Danish Girl. Todd Haynes– an openly gay director- has portrayed a lesbian romance without once patronising its audience, nor its characters. The standard male-gazing sexualisation is kept refreshingly to a minimum in Carol, while in The Danish Girl it is rife, and largely unnecessary.
The Danish Girl is a fantastic looking film, but it has beautified a true story that wasn’t always pretty. It should be a breath of fresh air, to see a transgender person immortalised in a mainstream film, but it does not pander to the community it features. Instead, it seems like a desperate attempt to please the wannabe-progressive awards panels, looking for the next social rights bangwagon to jump on. The irony is that the queer importance of this story has been painted over with this overdressed attempt at telling it.
View the trailer for The Danish Girl below.