During the discussion panel that followed my screening of “The Danish Girl,” Lucinda Coxon explained that she wrote the first draft of the screenplay 11 years ago. She had become fascinated by the characters in the 2000 novel by David Ebershoff based on the exceptional true story of a Danish artist and his wife in the mid-1920s. Ebershoff had taken great creative liberties in his book for the sake of drama. Coxon’s screenplay went through 20 drafts. She meticulously researched the characters’ real stories. She read the diary written by the main character, Lily Elbe, called “Man Into Woman.” When she had finished the final draft, her story was much more true to historical fact than Ebershoff’s novel.
This was no easy project to put into production. The film went through a series of director and cast changes between 2010 and 2015, finally ending up with the team that created the beautiful finished product. Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech,” “Les Miserables”) came on as director and pulled in some of his team from previous projects: cinematographer Danny Cohen, editor Melanie Oliver, casting director Nina Gold and production designer Eve Stewart. He also managed to secure one of the best composers in the business, Alexandre Desplat, whose score is hauntingly simple. Many of the scenes are dramatically silent, so when the music does come in, it adds to the emotional texture. In the end, a magnificent movie was made on a budget of just $15 million, shot in 44 days in five countries.
In the beginning of the film, the artist Einar Wegener paints landscapes that are full of longing. The composition of each scene has a wealth of emotional value and the sweeping landscapes create a love story. Water is a prevalent background theme. The camera moves when there is feeling, and when the environment is detached from the characters’ normal lives, as in hospitals and mental institutions, there is stillness and cool balance in the visual framework.
Eddie Redmayne did a tremendous amount of research to take on the very difficult of role of Einar/Lily Elbe. (In real life, Redmayne is married to a woman, PR executive Hannah Bagshawe.) Throughout the film he transforms very gradually and completely from awkward to shy, delicate and bubbling with joy just under the surface, at his new identity. He is a consummate artist. It’s hard to imagine this film without Alicia Vikander as the incredibly strong, complex, independent, yet soft and caring Gerta Wegener, Einar’s wife. Yet the role had been offered to five different actresses in the years leading up to production, and each had dropped out of this complex endeavor.
The story is about the relationship each of us has with our identity. It is a love story about two people who are very different from most in our culture, yet strong enough to think beyond social constrictions. It is a story about love that transcends definition, about the gift of having someone who believes in you in order to have the strength to become true to yourself. It is a tragedy yet full of joy. Please see it. Your eyes will be opened.
Rated R. 120 minutes.
Kathryn Whitney Boole was drawn into the entertainment industry as a kid and never left. It has been the backdrop for many awesome adventures with crazy creative people. She now works as a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. Reach her at email@example.com. For previously published reviews, see https://kwboole.wordpress.com.