Before making “The Danish Girl” (Focus Features, November 27) Alicia Vikander thought she knew what it was like to be female. And Eddie Redmayne explored a place he had never been when channeling transgender pioneer Lili Elbe. At the start of the movie directed by Oscar-winner Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) and written by British playwright/screenwriter Lucinda Coxon (from the novel by David Ebershoff), Elbe is a happily married painter who is trying to be supportive of his wife Gerda Wegener’s attempts to make her mark as an artist.
It’s when he puts on hair and makeup, stockings and a tutu to fill in for a missing model and experiences what it feels like to be a woman that he undergoes a profound change. He’s compelled to keep returning to his feminine self and leave behind the man he can no longer be. In the film’s most delightful sequences, Lili inspires her partner’s best work as they explore their changing relationship.
In the works for 15 years, the project has moved through various permutations to reach Hooper while he was prepping “The King’s Speech” in 2008, who eventually brought in his “Les Miserables” partners, Working Title and Universal (who have Hooper lined up for another project). He gave the script to Redmayne during production of “Les Mis.” “Two formidable people are going on a journey together with a lot of love,” said Redmayne, who relied on interviews with transgender women as well as Elbe’s own “Man Into Women” diaries published after her death. “Am I pretty enough?” Elbe/Redmayne asks in the film. Yes, he is.
Cutting a swath from its world-premiere at Venice to screenings at Toronto, gorgeously wrought “The Danish Girl” is well-positioned to score with audiences and awards voters. (The man sitting next to me was weeping at film’s end.) Hooper veteran (“Elizabeth I,” “Les Mis”) Redmayne, who has played women in the theater before, could earn his second Oscar nomination in a row after winning for “The Theory of Everything.”
And just as likely to earn her first nod is Vikander, who caps her year of strong performances (“Testament of Youth,” “Ex Machina”) with her role as Lili’s ambitious artist wife, Gerda Wegener. Vikander trusted being able to “let go” with Redmayne, she said: “You only have to dare to fall over the edge, that’s where the interesting things happen.”