This touching, timely movie brings to light the (heavily fictionalized) story of of 1920s Danish artist Einar Wegener, later Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne), an unsung hero(ine) and pioneer of the transgender movement; the first man to undergo a sex-change operation. (This was referred to at the recent 88th Academy Awards as “gender confirmation surgery,” which could be seen as an amusing example of runaway political correctness.)
The handsomely mounted film by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables) takes us through each step of the change, beginning with Einar’s initial awareness of his true gender being sparked by his dressing up as a woman on a lark, then how the female persona gradually becomes dominant.
Redmayne’s the star, but I’d see it again just to watch Alicia Vikander do her stuff. She steals Eddie’s thunder in every scene with her passionate, Oscar-winning performance as Wegener/Elbe’s long-suffering but supportive wife Gerda. She’s the audience surrogate, the more developed character, and absolutely essential to the story.
On the minus side, it’s a tad self-important and engages in some blatant Oscar-baiting with its borderline opportunistic message of social tolerance. And it’s a bit tame. It’s interesting but, well, too tasteful. I wanted it to have a bigger emotional punch, to get inside its characters’ heads.
But these are minor factors, and not at all the fault of the actors. Also Ben Whishaw and Matthias Schoenaerts.
Japanese title: Lili no Subete. (121 min)