Tom Hooper’s docudrama tells the story of a Danish man, born Einar, who in the 1920s underwent early sex-reassignment surgery to become Lili Elbe. Einar (Eddie Redmayne) is a fairly successful landscape painter in bohemian Copenhagen, happily married to Gerda (Alicia Vikander), herself a portrait painter. Then a bit of art-related cross-dressing opens Einar up to a deeper realization: Inside, he is a woman. Gerda is mostly supportive, and much of the film recounts how the pair — together and separately — seeks happiness in light of this new understanding.
The work is respectful and covers an interesting historical figure, but winds up being rather dull — a pro forma “prestige” arthouse film, properly bolstered with good actors, lovely settings, exquisite clothing and a “controversial” subject. Redmayne and Vikander give a good effort — both cry exquisitely and frequently — but The Danish Girl often seems like a melodrama enacted by beautifully designed animatronic creations. Vikander gives the better of the two performances by default, since Redmayne chooses a number of exaggerated tics and mannerisms designed to convey the coquettish feminine ideal. For all I know, so did the real Ms. Elbe. But writ large on screen, the repetitive head-ducking, simpering, blushing and fluttery hand-ballet is distracting — a pantomime in what wants to be a quiet story about two people’s painful and complicated emotional struggles.