During the director’s round table for The Hollywood Reporter in the build up to this year’s award season, the likes of Ridley Scott, Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle share a joke that cinema is made for the working man, except for films by Tom Hooper. Though they weren’t being serious, it’s hard to argue that the director of The King’s Speech, Les Miserables and the recent period drama The Danish Girl has anything but an eye for depicting the rich and gentry. His latest piece, the tale of Einar Wegener (one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery) was as Oscar bait as they come and as we know now, it failed to deliver. At face value The Danish Girl is meticulously beautiful and well crafted, but go deeper and its only an extravagant facade that covers up the failings in script.
Eddie Redmayne was accurately chosen for the role of Einar, while the role of his wife, Gerder Wegener, was passed to the now Oscar winner Alicia Vikander. Similar to Redmayne’s previous role in The Theory of Everything, he takes most of the attention as the driving force of the story, but his wife in both roles is the more interesting character. Gerder represents a complex character who’s motivation and support for her husband is complex. Taking nothing away from Redmayne who’s performance is respectful yet an example of ‘more’ over ‘good’ acting, but Vikander offers more with her character that really helps you understand the difficulty of her situation.
The problem of The Danish Girl lies in the way it has been put together. The screenplay is shot of anything for the cast to sink their teeth into, and much of the work of both leads on screen is accompanied with heavy touches on the design front that distract you from the story. The sheer detail in the film’s set is a joy to behold as an onlooker but in this case it was often distracting from the story. In the end there were too few memorable exchanges that lost out to set design.
Even with a story about a transgender individual, The Danish Girl does little to educate audiences about such. Tom Hooper has become entrenched in his design in order to match the zeitgeist of that time that, although beautiful and impressive, distracts away from the story that is always second best in the film. It appears out of Hooper’s reach to step away from the films he enjoys making, but with hindsight he will hopefully learn to tone back the gloss and pack more dramatic weight.