Save all your tears for The Danish Girl, a lavish costume drama based on the true story of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe.
The film opens in 1920s Copenhagen, where Einar (Eddie Redmayne) is married to fellow painter and illustrator Gerda (Alicia Vikander). They are shown as devoted to one another, with a circle of friends who love to hear about their blissful wedded life.
An earsplitting, hyper Amber Heard cameos as Ulla, a ballerina and close confidante of the couple. One day, Ulla is late for a portrait sitting with Gerda, who persuades Einar to pose instead.
Wearing silk stockings, satin slippers and gently cradling a beautiful dress against his thin body, Einar realizes his true gender identity. Lili emerges at first only as a sort of private game between the couple, but gradually she supplants the husband Gerda loves.
Of course, it was a different world. The medical profession can offer Lili only radiation therapy, threats of institutionalization and scant sympathy.
Eventually she meets a humane physician named Warnekros (Sebastian Koch) and Lili becomes one of the first to undergo gender reassignment surgery. There were no modern antibiotics or immunosuppressive drugs, so the undertaking was highly risky. “I am… entirely… myself,” beams Redmayne from Lili’s sick bed.
While Redmayne gives a technically very able performance there is a lack of inner life. Lili truthfully never makes it to the screen and we’re left with the well-meaning Redmayne in an auburn wig and lipstick.
It’s not really his fault, because although it starts as a two-hander, The Danish Girl becomes more of a blank canvas for Gerda’s emotions as she stays by Lili’s side even as she mourns the loss of a husband.
The Danish Girl – director Tom Hooper’s first movie after Les Miserables – is no masterpiece, but at it’s got its timing right, and it’s bound to find an audience willing to treat it with reverence.