Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl.
Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. PHOTO Contributed

The Danish Girl: Lili a true pioneer

WHILE The Danish Girl dramatises the life of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, the film is a love story at its core, according to director Tom Hooper.

The award-winning film stars Eddie Redmayne as Elbe, who was born as Einar Wegener and worked as a successful painter under that name in 1920s Copenhagen, and Alicia Vikander as Einar's wife and fellow painter Gerda.

Elbe is believed to be the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery and is considered a pioneer of the transgender community with an award named after her.

"You have to wonder why Lili emerged in the 1920s when the word transgender didn't exist," Hooper tells Weekend.

"I think it was the extraordinary love the couple had. The wife Gerda was able to see the real identity of her husband and support the emergence of her real feminine identity, even at the risk of losing the marriage.

"At its centre the story is a film about the transformative power of love."

Hooper first read the script seven years ago while he was working on his Oscar-winning film The King's Speech.

"The script moved me to tears at the end," he says.

"This has been a seven-year journey to bring the way I was moved to an audience."

The Danish Girl is a mix of real-life facts about Elbe's life and the fictionalised biography of the same name by author David Ebershoff.

"There is no biography of Lili. The memoir Man Into Woman was very helpful but it is considered by the specialists we talked to be slightly unreliable," Hooper says.

"We commissioned some new primary research in Copenhagen but it was difficult getting all the facts. Her surgery happened in Dresden, but all the records were wiped out in the Second World War.

"I visited archives at the Women's Hospital in Dresden and they showed me the old pictures they had. It's funny to think about how in 1930 that the most progressive, liberal part of Europe for this kind of thing was Germany. This happened just shortly before the Nazis set the clock back."

Hooper cast leading man Eddie Redmayne, who had a supporting role in his big-screen adaptation of the musical Les Miserables, early on and then found his on-screen match in rising Swedish talent Alicia Vikander.

"I felt very much a pressure to find a co-lead who can go head-to-head in this powerful two-hander; to match Eddie is not easy," he says.

"I'm lucky Alicia exists… she finds the strength of Gerda. You never feel she's a victim."

Gerda rose to prominence as a painter thanks to her stylised portraits of her husband as Lili, a fact which eventually became public.

"Gerda, as an artist, has the ability to see beyond the conventions of the time," Hooper says.

"She accepts she is living with a woman rather than a man and has sensitivity to the woman suppressed inside her husband. Had they been a modern couple living now, maybe they would have felt more freedom being two women living together."

The Danish Girl opens nationally on Thursday.

The Danish Girl

Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw.

Director: Tom Hooper

Rating: M

Reviewer's last word: This beautifully crafted love story is a true two-hander, with Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander giving equally brilliant, emotionally charged performances.

Star Profile: Alicia Vikander

Quirky fact: She studied ballet at the Royal Swedish Ballet School, but decided to pursue acting instead of ballet following a few injuries and subsequent foot and back surgeries.

Best known for: Ex Machina, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Testament of Youth.

If you like this movie you'll like these: Carol, Brooklyn, The Big Short.

Quote: "I like to push myself, find new sides of myself and see how different the characters are that I can create with my craft."

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