I couldn’t understand all the fuss about the Danish Girl, and I wasn’t surprised that it won fewer Oscars last Sunday than predicted. Many of his fans thought that Eddie Redmayne might win a second award. He’s a very good actor indeed, and he tottered about in high heels with great aplomb, but his portrayal of Lili Elbe (1882-1931), the transgender Danish artist, was altogether too effortful a performance, too rich a Danish pastry, for my taste. There was simply too much ‘acting’ to his performance, too much high-pitched interior strain, and much too much frantic facial twitching. I preferred the plainer bakery of Ben Whishaw and Alicia Vikander, who deservedly won an award for Best Supporting Actress.
In truth, this monothematic film was dull, even if it was an overdue tribute to the courage of a pioneering transgender woman. I am no expert on the subject, and know no transgender men or women, but I found the film’s portrayal of Lili Elbe entirely implausible. One moment Lili was an energetically heterosexual young man, with not the slightest interest in stockings, and moments later she’d faller under the spell of ladies’ lingerie and was going to parties in a frock. It didn’t ring true, at least to me.
In fact, of course, it isn’t true, and that’s the film’s gravest fault. It’s based on a novel that’s based on the life of Lili Elbe. Too much ‘basing’ can take you a long way away from the facts. True, Lili (originally Einar) married Gottlieb, with whom she’d studied at art school, but Gottlieb was a lesbian, so it’s very likely that their marriage was of an unconventional kind, and never quite as energetically heterosexual as the film suggests.
But Gottlieb isn’t the only thing that’s wrong. Almost everything else is made up too. There was no young boy in Einar’s childhood, at least as far as anyone knows, to explain his obsessive painting of a particular view, and the gay friend played by Ben Whishaw (excellently, as always) is another fabrication. Moreover, to suggest that Einar had some secret longing for his lost homosexual love is completely at odds with what the director ‘pushes’ at us during the early energetic years of Einar’s marriage to Gottlieb. It is implausible nonsense.
I loathe these apparently ‘true’ films that play irresponsibly fast and loose with the truth. They rarely bring a ‘greater’ artistic truth to light. They are arrogant directors’ fictions. I loathed The Imitation Game for the very same reason. Why not simply put them forward as fiction, and let us judge their plausibility?
It is not enough to take on a challenging subject and hope for Oscars and adulation. Truth is more important.