The Danish Girl isn't an easy watch, and it's a long one.
Director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, Les Mis) has once more chosen an unusual individual struggle within a supportive and loving marriage. The protagonists are two Danish painters: Einar and Gerda Wegener.
When the film begins they appear perfectly matched: in temperament, sexual compatibility and outlook. Einar has achieved fame as a landscapist of his native Vejle on the Jutland Peninsula; Gerda's talent has yet to be recognised. Einar's willingness to pose as 'Lili' in silk stockings and a tutu when Gerda's model fails to turn up marks a life changing moment. Lili becomes the muse who makes Gerda's name, while Einar discovers his true identity in her, and his untested and hazardous path to innovative transgender surgery is set.
The problem is the story does not match the telling.
Like The King's Speech Hooper's style is easy on the eye: a sumptuous evocation of Europe in the mid 1920s, with endless opportunities to dress up, act out and posture. There is too much of that. Beneath the social, bohemian whirl is pain – even agony.
While Lili (Eddie Redmayne) apes an outward theatrical femininity, his magnificent wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) supports his transformation – every tottering step obliterating a little more of their previous life. Her loyalty is absolute: 'I believe I am a woman', Lili tells her surgeon (Sebastian Koch). 'I believe it too', Gerda adds.
Based on David Ebershoff's novel, Lucinda Cox's script has some apt moments:
'I've not liked many people in my life, but you are two of them', Einar's childhood friend Hans (excellent Matthias Schoenaerts) tells Lili.
Paco Delgado's costumes are exquisite, and Eve Stewart's design and Danny Cohen's cinematography ravishing. However, the pallid skinned, pain-writhing reality of Lili's operative procedures is lost in layers of skirts – and so too is the real story of courage, determination and sheer grit to achieve a very different vision.
There must be pioneers – and Lili Elbe gave everything she had.