It is hard to imagine just how many thousands—perhaps millions—since Adam met Eve who have felt depressingly uncomfortable in their own minority skin. For those with homosexual desires, the chances to fulfill them were/are at least doable (at various times and in various civilizations no one thought twice about same-sex liaisons before fear and prudishness erected the proverbial closet). But imagine the many, unfortunate lost souls who were absolutely desperate to switch genders in order to find a modicum of peace within their "feels wrong" bodies but had no means whatsoever with which to make the transformation.
Thanks to the vivid imaginations of David Ebershoff (novel) and Lucinda Coxon (screenplay), the evolution of one troubled man to become a fully formed woman is depicted with great skill by all concerned even if the amount of artistic licence taken with the “facts” could fill all of the fjords many times over.
Eddie Redmayne’s performance is absolutely stunning whether playing the impish, landscape master Einar Wegener or his alluring other self, Lili. This is the sort of work that Best Actor (perhaps Best Actress?) is meant to recognize. Will the Academy have the, er, balls, to do so?
As the not-quite-as-good-an-artist wife, Gerda, Alicia Vikander, can’t match her co-star’s skill and intensity, but part of that stems from the way in which the script clearly puts the role into that of supporting rather than equal partner.
Ben Whishaw is entirely credible as Henrik, the gay blade with a taste for exotic encounters, most assuredly including transvestites, all of which sets up one of the film’s most memorable lines from the hero/heroine, “It was like kissing myself.”
Less clearly delineated is Einar’s long-lost boyhood chum, Hans, who—oh so conveniently—has left Denmark to become an art gallery owner in Paris—the sudden refuge for Einar/Lili and Gerda once his/her tendencies are unmasked in the far more conservative Copenhagen (hardly the case these days). Matthias Schoenaerts does his best, but is the victim of “not enough scenes” to truly solidify his character, intentions (past and present) and motives (these boyhood relationships being much better handled in Michael J. Saul’s The Surface—cross-reference below).
Nonetheless, director Tom Hooper and his talented crew (most notably Danny Cohen’s splendid cinematography) have fashioned a marvellous testament of courage, hope and compassion that those on both sides of the transgender divide must see in order to improve the mental health and wellbeing of us all.
And three cheers to whomever slipped in the Walt Whitman-like tree in the opening frames, marvellously referencing another kindred soul from the very rich world of the different among us. JWR