The Danish Girl (2016, Tom Hooper)

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Oh, Tom Hooper. You make such pretty films. Watching a Tom Hooper movie is the cinematic equivalent of wandering through the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. It’s something you feel you’ll benefit from culturally but secretly you wish you were running around Madame Tussaud’s taking selfies with the waxworks.

The Danish Girl is the story of Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne), born Einar Wegener, a young artist enduring pioneering gender reassignment surgery in the early 1900s and the conflicts surrounding the still-taboo issue of what it is to be transgender.

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And here’s my issue with it. From that premise I was expecting something really challenging, something extremely emotional, dramatic and daring; something accurately reflecting the life-changing struggle of gender reassignment in its early days. Hooper’s take on the extraordinary true story feels pedestrian, and actually the more I think about it, very British.  

You know those Buzzfeed articles you see about ’13 Devastatingly British Tweets’ that joke about us being extremely prudish and unable to convey emotion? This film is like that. Which makes sense, it’s Hooper’s style and whilst it works well for tales of British royalty like The King’s Speech (2010, Tom Hooper) and underdog sporting narratives like The Damned United (2009), it felt out of place here. Lili Elbe’s story called for more raw emotion and exposure of ugly truths and less glossing over like the many pieces of canvas that decorate every frame of this film.

Oh, there’s no denying that this film is GORGEOUS. Every shot looks like a beautiful oil painting and the struggling couple’s French apartment is the stuff of dreams. But let’s face it, great taste in art and home d├ęcor is not what this movie is about, so why does Hooper seem to make it the key focus of every scene? Very odd.

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This also applies to Redmayne’s performance. His portrayal of Lili lays on the femininity (or the perceived performance of femininity should I say) thick, almost distractingly so. In The Theory of Everything (2014, James Marsh) one almost forgot that it wasn't actually Professor Hawking on the screen, whereas for the entirety of The Danish Girl I was very aware of the fact that this is Eddie Redmayne playing a transgender woman.

This was not helped by the make-up. What should have been the most dramatic and emotional scenes were ruined for me by the distraction of rogue fluttering lashes. From posters and trailers I was prepared to be blown away by make-up in this movie, but for a director so fond of close-ups you’d think he’d be more wary of blending Redmayne’s falsies.

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For me, The Danish Girl was the first disappointment of Oscar season – and hopefully it’s the last! A bit less of that stereotypical British stiff upper lip was needed to tackle this tender subject and Hooper’s vision just didn't handle the subject delicately enough for me. A movie that shouldn't have left a dry eye in the house instead resulted in many unopened packets of Kleenex and silence as we filed out of the screen.

Have you seen The Danish Girl yet? What did you make of it? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to know what you think!


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