Though Eddie Redmayne turns in yet another exceptional performance, “The Danish Girl” actually belongs to Alicia Vikander, the beautiful actress and female lead in this film from Tom Hooper. Vikander, a double Golden Globe nominee this year, plays Gerda Wegener, the compassionate and frustrated wife of a man who believes he is a woman inside.
Redmayne plays Einar Wegener, a well-respected Danish painter. Though happily married to Gerda, he discovers his passion for cross-dressing when he poses for his wife. Adopting a new persona called Lili Elbe, the painter goes out more frequently wearing a dress and makeup. Over time, Lili becomes the dominant personality.
Based on real-life events, “The Danish Girl” tells a fascinating and heartbreaking story about an early gender reassignment case. Eddie Redmayne displays his incredible acting ability by playing two distinct characters. As Einar, Redmayne is a dignified masculine presence in Paris. After slipping on a dress, though, the actor becomes the intriguing and alluring Lili.
The person who walks away with the movie, however, is Vikander. The actress captures Gerda’s initial frustration at not breaking through in the art world. After she has her husband pose for her as Lili, the Paris art community can’t get enough of her work. At home, however, Gerda sees her husband slipping away from her as Lili takes over.
Vikander’s expressive face and body captures Gerda’s tormented married life. She loves her husband dearly and wants to do the right thing for him. As he takes on a female personality, Gerda still wants to hold onto him. Though frustrated and fearful, she never stops loving her husband.
Vikander’s performance here even tops her exceptional work in “Ex Machina.” In that science fiction thriller, she played an artificial intelligence housed in a female robotic form. Vikander has been nominated for Golden Globes for “The Danish Girl” and “Ex Machina,” and she has an excellent chance of winning both awards.
Set in the 1920’s and 30’s, “The Danish Girl” also looks back at the early history of gender reassignment surgery. The film shows that many specialists considered men like Einar to be mentally ill and in need of treatment. In one horrifying scene, Redmayne’s character even submits to radiation therapy to cure his impulses.
Though slow-moving, the performances of both Vikander and Redmayne make “The Danish Girl” a worthwhile movie. While gender reassignment has become more common, director Tom Hooper’s film explores a time when the process was exceptionally dangerous on both a medical and personal level.
“The Danish Girl,” rated R for some sexuality and full nudity, currently is playing in theaters.