At a time when the LGBTQI movement has begun to make a greater leap towards equality and acceptance, the film The Danish Girl takes us back to one of the earliest struggles for transgenders. Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar for Best Actor (The Theory of Everything) earlier this year, is set to deliver another powerful and moving performance as transgender artist Lili Elbe, who is believed to have been one of the first transgender persons to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
Based on David Ebershoff’s historical novel and directed by Tom Hooper, who won an Oscar for The King’s Speech, The Danish Girl will show the poignant battle that Lili Elbe underwent during her transition from a male identity. Assigned male at birth in 1882 and named Einar Wegener, Elbe discovered she was transgender while wearing women’s clothing as she modeled for her wife and eventually transitioned with her support in the 1920s. Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) plays the role of Elbe’s wife, Gerda, while Matthias Schoenaerts plays another love interest for Elbe.
Redmayne gave a statement earlier this year on his role as Lili and stated that he had spent time amongst members of the transgender community in an effort to be as sincere to the role as possible. Redmayne said that he also admired the strength the decision to transition must have taken Elbe at the time, especially considering how dangerous surgery still was then. When the very few pictures that were released reached the public, it was easy to see that the transformation to Lili had been stunning, but it was met with mixed reviews. This first trailer for The Danish Girl gives us a glimpse into a portrayal that seems worthy of another Oscar.
The Guardian reports that transgender activists had previously denounced Redmayne playing Lili in The Danish Girl, stating that someone who had firsthand knowledge of the struggles of transitioning should have been used. However, Tom Hooper has staunchly defended his choice of actors and his decision not to use another female as the lead.
“Eddie was really the person I wanted to make the film with, and I was very passionate about that. I was a great believer in him as an actor. I think also there’s a certain gender fluidity that I sensed in him, that I found intriguing and it led me to think he might be a really interesting person to cast in this role. I felt that there was something in him that was drawn to the feminine. That was something that I felt he might be interested to explore further.”
Hooper also said Redmayne’s dedication to the role brought the portrayal together beautifully.
“Eddie has this astonishing emotional translucency. For him the concern was always about Lili’s emotional journey. He put so much work and time into that, which led to getting the physical stuff right. Everything flowed from the inside out.”
The director says that the script had touched him immensely upon first reading it, and it also seemed to have a similar effect upon Vikander. Entertainment Weekly says that the actress also did some research of her own for her supporting role as Elbe’s wife in The Danish Girl.
“We see the trans civil-rights movement unfolding at the moment. And we see how it’s very relatable. With any big change in life, anyone you’re close to goes on the journey with you. I read a book called My Husband’s a Woman Now by Leslie Fabian, who I’ve been on the phone with. It’s amazing how much it’s about two people who go through that change together. And I really like how we show both sides in our story. It’s about being able to love yourself, truly and honestly, but it’s also a love story between two people.”
Though it has been a long journey to the big screen for The Danish Girl, losing actresses and struggling with the budget, it is finally finished. If the trailer is a true measure of the whole film, it has been done right. As the world continues to make strides to be on the right side of history and hopefully end persecution against trans men and women, this film will hopefully be a tool for change as well.
The Danish Girl will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 5, and will open in U.S. cinemas on November 27.
[Photo Courtesy of Kevork Djansezian/ Getty Images]