The Danish Girl

Film, Drama
2 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(9user reviews)
The Danish Girl

Eddie Redmayne is striking, but this is a disappointingly conservative biopic of the pioneering transgender artist Lili Elbe

'The King's Speech' director Tom Hooper has given the story of transsexual 1920s Danish artist Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne, convincingly pretty and fragile) and his wife Gerda (Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, often out of her depth), a decorous, overly tasteful spin. In fact, the film is so tasteful that you might barely realise the story involves a man having his penis surgically removed at a time when such a thing was barely known or possible.

In this version, Einar begins publicly identifying as a woman, Lili, after posing as a woman for his wife's paintings. The intriguing suggestion is that Gerda perhaps had an instinctive feel for her husband's secret, and the success of her Lili paintings coincides with the collapse of her marriage, with more tragedy to follow.

That's all fascinating, complicated, heady stuff. But Hooper and writer Lucinda Dixon take a deeply conventional approach by framing their story as a portrait of a loving marriage with an almost incidental awkward flaw. That's fine, if underwhelming, in the film's early scenes as we first watch Einar and Gerda's playful relationship. But when there's more at stake as Einar starts dressing as a woman and identifying as Lili not only occasionally but all the time, Hooper's approach feels increasingly shallow and lacking in proper inquiry.

It doesn't help that Dixon's script is often a clunker when it comes to dialogue. Hooper's decision to cast a Swedish actress speaking accented English playing a Dane also feels clumsy. There are also some horribly fruity and distracting supporting performances, especially from a shrill Amber Heard as a dancer and a caricatured Adrian Schiller as an art dealer. Ben Whishaw is a happy exception as Lili's potential love interest, Henrik.

‘The Danish Girl’ is meticulously made – not a hair is out of place. Danny Cohen's remarkable photography and Eve Stewart's stunning production design dominate. Admirers of 'The King's Speech' will perhaps find much to like, including Hooper's fondness for distorting wide-angle shots in enclosed spaces and his ability to make a room feel like a theatre. But too much feels like it's for show: when Einar is beaten up in Paris, it happens on a bandstand, of course.

What Hooper fails to do is get to grips with sexual identity in any way that's intellectually or emotionally provocative or surprising. That makes for a cold, pretty, delicate movie – one that too often relies on scene-stealing production design or the overwhelmingly insipid score for its otherwise strikingly absent emotional power. There are hints of a more interesting film – especially when Redmayne's Einar visits a private sex show in Paris and starts imitating the performer. But mostly it's all very British and middle-of-the-road in a way you hoped cinema had left behind.


Release details

Release date:
Friday January 1 2016
120 mins

Cast and crew

Tom Hooper
Lucinda Coxon
Alicia Vikander
Amber Heard
Matthias Schoenaerts
Eddie Redmayne
Ben Whishaw

Average User Rating

3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:1
  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:2
  • 2 star:4
  • 1 star:0
2 people listening

This is a film about female gender roles made by a male director, who doesn't seem to know much about female gender roles, despite the script being written by a woman. The blindingly real portrayal of the life of Gerda (played by Alicia Vikander), the wife of the artist who experiments with female identity and then decides to change gender, should have been the focus of the film, not the story of Lili/Elbe (Eddie Redmayne). The film plays at being about gender, with the stereotypical scenes of Lili being seduced by a male friend and being beaten by male bullies, but the genuine, non-stereotypical and unpretentious presentation of women comes through Vikander. 


A very beautiful and intriguing film, but ultimately dull and unconvincing - I didn't feel engaged or bothered about the characters or their issues - so a real failure in my view!


This is indeed a very beautiful film and one I was looking forward to seeing, I wasn't disappointed as such, but I wasn't bowled over either and despite the moving story, the gloss of it all created a barrier so that it didn't touch me emotionally.

I felt the film went very suddenly from the couple being in a perfect marriage to Einar feeling completely alienated from his body and he seemed to spiral into the depths of dispair quite rapidly.

All the actors were brilliants, the costumes sumptious and cinematography wonderful, but I wanted more grit, more angst and to feel more for the characters. What interests me particularly in films such as these, is usually the history and facts, but the film failed to deliver on that count, really only scratching the surface in my opinion. 


I wasn't expecting to like this film, but I really fell for it. The costumes are gorgeous, the acting brilliant and the story so heartbreaking, you will continue to think about it long after the credits have rolled. It also seems incredibly ahead of its time, considering the compassion that most people around Elnar showed him as he came to grips with being Lilli - especially his wonderful wife. One to watch again and again. 


Really good movie with amazing acting.

It shows the true story of Einar and his struggles to accept and transition from man to woman and the strength and pain of his wife to understand and accept this change.

I've found it truly breathtaking the emotional struggles anyone in this situation must go through and the impact it can have it their loved ones.

It's one of those movies that will go with you once you leave the cinema.


Sadly not the masterpiece it should have been…

Weirdly, the movie focuses on Gerda instead of her husband, Einar. This film in fact tells the story of Gerda learning to cope with her husband’s life-changing decision to transition. If we feel empathetic and connected to Gerda – mostly due to the sublime performance of Alicia Vikander, we can’t help but feel frustrated as we try to decipher what is going on inside Einar/Lili’s head. Because it focuses on the wrong protagonist, this movie fails to proper discuss and explore its sexual identity theme and is in no way truly progressive or challenging. Shame!

Staff Writer

I'm inclined to agree with the Time Out review here in that it was a fairly bland and sometimes boring take on the life of Lili Elbe. I found myself shuffling about in my seat after the first hour after the film had failed to capture my intrigue. The second half did improve however but the first spent far too much time setting the scene without ever getting into the characters struggles.

Eddie Redmayne does make a very convincing woman and is well cast in the role but as the Time Out review says, the film is far too conservative. Having read the book as well, there are large parts which have been changed or missed out that would have made it more interesting. 

Wait until it's out on TV... not worth the trip to the cinema.

i heard it didnt have good reviews and was surprised to find out yet again how wrong critics can be, i loved thios film , it was sad and inspiring with some great acting

I went to see the Danish girl thinking that I may not like it due to the Character Lili and Gerda having nothing in common as it was seen from a female to female relationship perspective. (Both married) and I also thought in the beginning it was a parody of how a women should behave such as walking in heals, putting on make up and being hyper feminine. But by watching the film and given it a chance Eddy Redmayne played a very good Transsexual. Also I could relate to the character the complications of surgery which I had 16 years ago and still have now. But this film touched me and made me cry not at the end of the film but it was the relationship/friendship she had with her wife, and the trauma they both went through together. There is only one other film I cried to and that was Edward Scissorhands. For me the film was as good as the French film la vien rose about a boy who wanted to be a girl. and how society could not except this.