The Danish Girl

25 January 2016 | 10:03 am | Guy Davis

"There's no denying that The Danish Girl is aimed at a wider audience. But it's sensitive and thoughtful."

The transgender community is gaining visibility more and more in popular culture, thanks to the television series Transparent, the acclaimed independent film Tangerine and, of course, the amount of publicity surrounding Caitlyn Jenner.

But can an issue really be thought to have entered the mainstream until it has a prestigious, Oscar-chasing film of its own? (Yes, that's a bit facetious, but it is more often than not a step in the process.)

The Danish Girl is such a film. It has the necessary bona fides: Tom Hooper, a director with reputable, middlebrow works like The King's Speech to his name, behind the camera, and Eddie Redmayne, an actor recently awarded an Academy Award for his performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything, in the lead role.

To those with an active interest in the transgender movement, that could set off alarm bells — in the interest of gathering acclaim and winning over mainstream audiences, the more challenging angles could be diluted or downright ignored.

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And there's no denying that The Danish Girl is aimed at a wider audience. But it's sensitive and thoughtful — well, this cisgender guy thought so, at least — and could well act as a worthy primer when it comes to gender-identity issues.

Einar (Redmayne) and Gerda (Ex Machina's Alicia Vikander) are married artists in 1920s Copenhagen, professionally thriving — his career more than hers, perhaps — and personally content.

However, when Gerda asks Einer to don stockings for a portrait she's working on, it stirs something in Einar, who finds himself developing more and more of a feminine personality he names 'Lili'.

What gradually becomes clear to both husband and wife, however, is that Lili is less a part of Einar than a fully fledged personality. Einar's true personality, in fact. And so his transition to Lili begins.

It's as much a life-changing experience for Gerda, who becomes a success with her portraits of Lili while quietly mourning the loss of her husband, and The Danish Girl explores it with a fine combination of candour and delicacy, with the performances of Redmayne (whose physicality is beautifully observed and controlled) and Vikander (whose emotionality is just as acute) giving it heart and soul.