It’s been a momentous 12 months for the transgender community, which has advanced the fight for acceptance, equality and understanding.
The Danish Girl is a fictionalised account of Lili Elbe, a pioneer of the movement, who was one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery in the 1920s.
Director Tom Hooper, who collected an Academy Award for The King’s Speech, adopts a restrained and painfully polite approach to the subject matter.
Thankfully, his British reserve doesn’t get in the way of us connecting to the characters, aided by tour-de-force performances from Eddie Redmayne as Lili and Alicia Vikander as his conflicted wife.
Their commitment to demanding roles, including a deeply moving scene of full-frontal nudity for Redmayne, elevates Lucinda Coxon’s script and guarantees a deluge of saltwater tears from audiences.
Einar Wegener (Redmayne) is a respected artist in 1920s Copenhagen, who falls in love at first sight with his bohemian wife Gerda (Vikander).
She is also a painter and asks Einar to stand in for an absent female model so she can complete a portrait of their flamboyant ballerina friend, Ulla (Amber Heard).
The touch of soft fabric on Einar’s skin awakens long-dormant feelings.
Adopting the guise of flame-haired ingenue Lili Elbe, Einar confronts the deep-rooted belief that he has been born into the wrong body.
‘It doesn’t matter what I wear. When I dream, they’re Lili’s dreams,’ Einar tearfully confides to his shell-shocked spouse.
Supported by Gerda and childhood friend Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts), Lili approaches controversial surgeon Warnekros (Sebastian Koch) to correct nature’s mistake.
However, the medical procedure is experimental and highly dangerous, and Gerda might not only lose her husband and Lili on the operating table.
The Danish Girl treads an exceedingly safe path, but it’s hard to resist the aching emotion that courses beneath each exquisite, painterly frame.
Redmayne and Vikander are mesmerising and both deserve Oscar recognition.
Resplendent cinematography and costumes capture the tightly-buttoned restraint of an era when a man who openly questioned his gender was labelled a schizophrenic or pervert.
Thankfully, times have changed – too slowly, perhaps – but well-crafted stories of triumph against adversity like this are timeless.