The Danish Girl is a 2015 biographical romantic drama film directed by Tom Hooper, based on the 2000 novel of the same name by David Ebershoff, and loosely inspired by the lives of Danish painters Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. The film stars Eddie Redmayne as Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, Alicia Vikander as Wegener, and Sebastian Koch as Kurt Warnekros, with Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard, and Matthias Schoenaerts in supporting roles.
|The Danish Girl|
|Directed by||Tom Hooper|
|Written by||Lucinda Coxon|
|Based on||The Danish Girl|
by David Ebershoff
|Edited by||Melanie Ann Oliver|
|Music by||Alexandre Desplat|
|Distributed by||Focus Features (United States)|
Universal Pictures (International)
|Box office||$64.2 million|
The film participated in the main competition of the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, and it was shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. The film was released in a limited release on 27 November 2015 by Focus Features in the United States. The film was released on 1 January 2016, in the United Kingdom, with Universal Pictures International handling international distribution.
In spite of criticism for its inaccurate portrayal of historical events, Redmayne and Vikander's performances received widespread acclaim and nominations for all of the major acting awards. For their performances, Vikander won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and Redmayne was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, while the film received additional Academy Award nominations for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design at the 88th Academy Awards. It also received five BAFTA Award nominations, including BAFTA Award for Best British Film at the 69th British Academy Film Awards.
In mid-1920s Copenhagen, portrait artist Gerda Wegener asks her legal husband, a popular landscape artist and closeted trans woman (then going by Einar Wegener), to stand in for a female model who is late coming to their flat to pose for a painting she is working on.
The act of posing as a female figure unmasks Einar's life-long gender identity as a woman, who then names herself Lili Elbe. This sets off a progression, first tentative and then irreversible, of leaving behind the male identity which she has struggled to maintain all her life. This takes place as both Lili and Gerda relocate to Paris; Gerda's portraits of Lili in her feminine state attract serious attention from art dealers in a way that her previous portraiture had not. It is there that Gerda tracks down art dealer Hans Axgil, a childhood friend of Lili (whom Lili had kissed when they were young). Hans and Gerda's mutual attraction is a challenge, as Gerda is navigating her changing relationship with Lili; but Hans' long-time friendship with and affection for Lili cause him to be supportive of both Lili and Gerda.
As Lili's continued existence presenting as a male becomes too much to bear, she starts to seek help from psychologists, but none yields any result, and, in one instance, almost leads her to being committed to an asylum. Eventually, at Ulla's recommendation, Lili and Gerda meet Dr. Kurt Warnekros. Dr. Warnekros explains that he has met people like her, who are physically male but identify as female. He proposes a new, innovative and controversial solution: male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. He also mentions that this is the second time he's offered this surgery, but the first male got too nervous and left before the surgeries began. This would entail a two-part procedure that involves first removing Lili's external genitalia and then, after a period of recovery, fashioning a vagina. He warns Lili and Gerda that it is a very dangerous operation that has never been attempted before, and Lili would be one of the first to undergo it. Lili immediately agrees and, soon after, travels to Germany without Gerda to begin the surgery.
Gerda stays behind for a little while, but ultimately decides she should be by Lili's side. She arrives to Lili having completed the first surgery, but very much in pain with a serious infection and negative prognosis. Gerda helps Lili heal and Lili begins working in a department store selling woman's perfume. She befriends a man who was originally interested in her as Einar and she emphasizes that Gerda's relationship with Einar is over because Einar is gone. She stays a while, but decides it's time to go back for the second surgery, much to Gerda's distress. Lili again leaves alone.
Gerda again shows up after the surgery is complete, but Lili is pale and weak. She feels complete and insists she be taken out to the garden again. Lili dies of complications from the second surgery while talking with Gerda. Gerda and Hans travel to a hilltop back in Denmark where Hans and Lili grew up, in front of the five trees Lili often painted. The scarf that Lili had originally given Gerda, and that had subsequently been given back and forth several times, is carried away on the wind, dancing.
- Eddie Redmayne as Einar Wegener / Lili Elbe (Lili Elvenes)
- Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener (née Gottlieb)
- Matthias Schoenaerts as Hans Axgil (Fernando Porta)
- Ben Whishaw as Henrik Sandahl (Claude Lejeune)
- Amber Heard as Ulla Paulson
- Sebastian Koch as Dr. Kurt Warnekros
- Pip Torrens as Dr. Jens Hexler
- Nicholas Woodeson as Dr. Buson
- Emerald Fennell as Elsa
- Adrian Schiller as Rasmussen
- Henry Pettigrew as Niels
- Pixie as Hvappe, the Jack Russell dog
Screenwriter Lucinda Coxon worked on the screenplay for a decade before it was produced. She told Creative Screenwriting:
I started in 2004 and within a couple of years we had a script we were happy to send out. We were terribly excited and I was fantastically naïve, because when you fall in love with a project, you assume that everyone else will be in love with it as well. The actors were very much in love with it. Several well-known actresses wanted to play Gerda, but the subject matter made it quite difficult to find someone to play Lili. We scheduled various directors and with each director came a new draft.
In September 2009, Tomas Alfredson revealed to Variety that production on the project would precede that of his upcoming Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy adaptation, adding: "We have been in talks for close to a year, and we are soon going into production". In December 2009, Swedish newspapers reported that Alfredson was no longer attached to direct The Danish Girl and would begin work on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy next. Alfredson said he regretted that reports of him working on The Danish Girl spread before the deal was finalized. He also said that he still wanted to make the film and might return to the project.
In 2008, Nicole Kidman was originally attached to play Einar/Lili and would also produce the film through her company Blossom Films. Charlize Theron was originally slated to play the role of Gerda Wegener but, after leaving the project, was replaced by Gwyneth Paltrow. Paltrow then left the project due to location changes. Uma Thurman was also a rumoured replacement. In September 2010, Marion Cotillard was rumored to be the lead candidate for the role of Gerda Wegener.
On 11 June 2010, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that the film had received €1.2 million ($1.5 million) in subsidy financing from Germany's NRW Film Board. The conditions of the deal include the planned 19-day shoot in Germany. In February 2011, Screen Daily reported that the film would begin shooting in July of the same year and that Rachel Weisz would play Wegener. In May, it was revealed that both Weisz and Hallström had left the project.
On 28 April 2014, it was announced that Tom Hooper would direct the film with Eddie Redmayne as the lead. While filming of Jupiter Ascending, Redmayne spoke with Lana Wachowski, saying she "told me where to start reading, and where to start educating myself" about Gerda and Lili. On 19 June 2014, Alicia Vikander was announced in the cast. On 8 January 2015, Matthias Schoenaerts joined the cast.
We had probably gone through 20 drafts before landing Tom Hooper. In fact, the one we shot was actually an early revised draft that Tom had read back in 2008. I did a fairly large rewrite for Tom, but in the end, we used a version with little revision from the original.
Filming began in February 2015, and also took place at Nyhavn, where the iconic waterfront was transformed to look like Copenhagen in the 1930s. Sets for the Danish and Paris flats were built in the Elstree Studios near London and additional shooting took place in Copenhagen and Brussels. Production on the film concluded on 12 April 2015. Filming took 44 days for the 186 scenes in six countries.
Post-production ended in September 2015. According to composer, Alexandre Desplat, post-production was very fast, with the film being cut as Desplat was writing the score, which was recorded only a week prior to the film's premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
Hooper revealed to Indiewire and After Ellen that the film's ending is different from the novel (in which Gerda and Hans stay together) and real life (Gerda and Lili were not together in Lili's final days), and he de-emphasized the importance of the Hans storyline because he did not want to feel that there was a love possibility for Gerda with Hans that could in any way rival Lili. He wanted it to be ambiguous whether it would turn into a love affair, rather than a friendship, because he saw Lili and Gerda as the loves of each other's lives. He took the script in that direction to protect the importance of their relationship.
On 4 March 2015, Focus Features set the film for a limited release on 27 November 2015. The film had its world premiere at the 72nd Venice Film Festival on 5 September 2015. Universal Pictures handled distribution in other territories outside the U.S., with a release on 1 January 2016, in the United Kingdom.
The first image of Redmayne as Lili Elbe was revealed on 26 February 2015. A pair of posters of Redmayne and Vikander were then released in August, On 1 September 2015, the first trailer was released. on 19 November 2015, The first clip from the film was released.
The Danish Girl has grossed $11.1 million in North America and $53.1 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $64.2 million, against a budget of $15 million.
The film had a limited release in the United States and Canada across four cinemas in New York and Los Angeles on 27 November 2015 before expanding cinemas in December. The film earned $185,000 in its opening weekend, averaging $46,250, which is the sixth-best opening weekend per cinema average of 2015. The opening weekend’s audience was 58% female, and 67% were over 40.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 66% based on 244 reviews, with an average rating of 6.60/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The Danish Girl serves as another showcase for Eddie Redmayne's talent—and poignantly explores thought-provoking themes with a beautifully filmed biopic drama". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 66 out of 100, based on 41 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Independent film website FilmDebate credited The Danish Girl as the 'most important film of 2015', stating that 'This is not only the best movie of the year, but it is the most important. The story and performances come together in the truest of ways to make a film that the whole world needs to see and get behind.'
The film's acting, particularly that of Redmayne and Vikander in the lead roles, received considerable acclaim, with Marie Asner of Phantom Tollbooth stating that "the acting is what makes this film". Redmayne's performance was described as "another sterling example of just how deeply he can immerse himself into a role" by Jim Schembri of 3AW, and as "revealing, heartbreaking and believable" by Linda Cook of Quad-City Times.
Kyle Buchanan, writing for Vulture, complained that it was part of a trend of "queer and trans films that are actually about straight people", while Paul Byrnes for The Sydney Morning Herald said it was "a lost opportunity" in which "the frocks are more convincing than the emotions." Casey Plett, a transgender writer, criticized the script in a conversation in The Walrus as "atrocious and boring", going on to say "It's like someone got inspired by a Shakespeare tragedy, then combined the verbosity of R. L. Stine with the subtlety of Brendan Fraser."
The Danish Girl has been criticized as being written similarly to forced feminization erotica, obscuring the actual story of a historical transgender woman, and for being based on a fictional book that does not tell the true story of Elbe and Wegener. Additionally, it was criticized for casting Redmayne, a cisgender male actor, in a transgender female role. Redmayne acknowledged this criticism in an interview with Indiewire around the time of the film's 2015 release, calling it an "incredibly important discussion". In a 2018 GQ interview, Redmayne said he was unsure in retrospect if he should have accepted the role. He stated in 2021 that he regretted it, stating, "I made that film with the best intentions, but I think it was a mistake. The bigger discussion about the frustrations around casting is because many people don’t have a chair at the table. There must be a leveling, otherwise we are going to carry on having these debates."
Oscar category controversyEdit
Alicia Vikander was awarded the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film, the film's only Oscar win out of the four nominations, a decision that the Academy was criticized for as Vikander has about one hour of screen-time, which is 50% of the film's run-time and therefore qualified her for consideration in the Best Actress category. The film's distributor Focus Features had campaigned in support of Vikander in the Supporting Actress category, in which many lead actresses have been nominated and won. She was intentionally not shortlisted in the Best Actress category as she would have been competing against Brie Larson for her role in Room, which would have decreased her chances of winning while the Supporting Actress category had less competition. At both the Golden Globe Awards and the British Academy Awards, Vikander's performance in The Danish Girl was nominated for Best Actress and she was included in the Best Supporting Actress category for her work in Ex Machina.
- Elbe was not the first transgender woman to undergo sex reassignment surgery, having been preceded by Dora Richter.
- The film is based on the novel The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff, and as such duplicates much of the fictionalized and speculative content of the novel. Director Tom Hooper stated that the film is closer to the real story than Ebershoff's book.
- Lili and Gerda moved to Paris in 1912, but the film appears to imply they moved to Paris in the late '20s. Paris was remarkably liberal in the 1910s and 1920s, which is the reason why Gerda and Lili settled there and Gerda lived openly as a lesbian in the city. The scene in which Lili, dressed in men's clothes, is beaten by two men in Paris after being assumed to be a lesbian is fictional.
- Lili's post-transition name was Lili Ilse Elvenes. The name "Lili Elbe", the only name used in the film, was made up by Copenhagen journalist Louise "Loulou" Lassen.
- Gerda divorced from Porta in 1936, did not have children, and never married again. She returned to Denmark, took to drinking, and died penniless in 1940. The character Hans Axgil did not exist in her life and was merely a loose inspiration from Porta, though the real Fernando Porta was not a childhood friend of Einar/Lili. The surname Axgil is a reference to the Danish couple Axel and Eigil Axgil, the first gay couple ever to enter into a registered partnership.
- Elbe died from organ rejection due to a uterus transplant (her fifth operation) in 1931, at the age of 48, but in the film she dies after the second sex reassignment surgery.
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