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The (utterly gorgeous) Danish Girl

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I finally saw The Danish Girl this week – after catching the trailer ages ago – and it was worth the wait.  If you’ve not seen it yet, I’d definitely recommend booking a movie night some time soon before it disappears from the multiplexes.

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It’s absolutely stunning.  And the visual distinctions between the three locations are beautifully and sumptuously done: the stark simplicity of Copenhagen, the lavish opulence of inter-war Paris, the leafy calm of the German countryside.  The attention to detail was astounding, too, from the newspaper hats of the old women selling fish at the docks to the fur and feathers along the rails of costumes in the theatre.

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It’s also an astonishingly moving story, based on the 2000 novel by David Ebershoff and directed by Tom Hooper (who’s rapidly becoming one of my favourite’s). The changes in the relationship between Einar and Gerda Wegener as Einar becomes Lily Elbe, first as a sort of game and later as something much more serious, are achingly painful and there are lots of tears on screen (and there might have been a few over my popcorn, too).  And even more moving because it’s loosely based on the diaries of the real Lili Elbe – the very first person to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

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Yes, there are some fairly graphic parts – Einar looking over his naked male body and imagining what it would be like to be female was an unusually prolonged shot, but it made absolute sense in the context and was deeply tense and absorbing.  But there’s very little actual sex – in fact, I’m not sure there was any.

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Most of the reviews – and all the publicity – seems to have focused almost exclusively on Eddie Redmayne’s performance, and it is extraordinary.  Just as in The Theory of Everything, he seems able to transform himself into someone else entirely.  But the performance of Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener, whose paintings of Lili launch her career, is stunning.  She’s strong and fearless, supporting her husband through the transition into a new person – and losing him, in many ways, in the process.  Really impressive, too, is the supporting role of Hans Axgil, played by Matthias Schoenaerts.  Physically, he provides a huge contrast to the very slight Redmayne, and his character becomes a quiet constant in a story that is all about change.

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There are a lot of action-driven films around right now – Star Wars, Spectre, that sort of thing – and The Danish Girl is nothing at all like that.  It’s about art, in the broadest sense, and nature, about image, about love and strength, about the ways we know who we are.  And it’s brilliant.

You can watch the trailer here.  Then go see it.

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