|'In direct contrast to some of Hooper's previous efforts, there is some attempt here from him to step out from the staid, buttoned-down reticence of past offerings'|
Tom Hooper has the curious 'honour' of being a director whose career has arched upwards, whilst critical opinion of his films has headed in the opposite direction. The muddy football drama The Damned United (not Hooper's first film, but his first widely seen success) and HBO miniseries John Adams received near-universal positivity but, by the time he had reached Oscar-winning The King's Speech and his 2012 take on Les Misérables, questions were beginning to form. Hooper's films were too bland, too middle class (as was he), suitable for Sunday lunch times and not much else. Personally I like The King's Speech a lot and my problems with Les Misérables are more to do with story and the fact that it is a Musical, rather than anything more directly sitting with the director. Hooper is still someone with films to give and a painterly eye looming over their delivery.
At this odd high/low point then, Hooper directs this adaptation of David Ebershoff's 2000 novel, The Danish Girl, a highly fictionalised history of the life of Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne), one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery, having lived for most of her life as successful Danish artist Einar Wegener.
In direct contrast to some of Hooper's previous efforts, there is some attempt here from him to step out from the staid, buttoned-down reticence of past offerings. Einar's relationship with his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) is presented as highly sexualised, which allows Hooper a way in to the eventual levels of split between them. There is success here in showing Lili's mindset as something which impacts the philosophical, emotional and physical elements, not only of herself, but also of her relationship with Gerda. The clumsily told side story of Henrik (Ben Whishaw), who is interested in Einar but not Lili, lends more depth to this part of the story than it needed; the duologue between Einar and Gerda and how they interact throughout the film is the real substance of The Danish Girl.
Whilst Hooper then has moved on to more narratively challenging subject matter and marginally more risqué presentation, his eye for a nice shot remains. The couple's pastel apartment in Copenhagen looks itself like a painting and the handful of outdoor shots, all wonderfully matched to the pastel interiors by cinematographer Danny Cohen, are stunning.
The problem is that the atmosphere created by these shots doesn't go anywhere. There's no transfer into the dialogue between Lili and Gerda, no reflection of foreboding in the early scenes or relief in the latter. The effect is to make The Danish Girl a little one note. Side plots don't typically work (though there's another impressively different turn from Matthias Schoenaerts, as a dandyish art dealer) and the aforementioned lack of any discernible mood (when Lili and Gerda move to Paris, are they happy or sad; entrenched in anxiety of what is to come, or delighted for the new start?) leaves plenty of scenes feeling empty. Redmayne and Vikander are, of course, highly watchable, but they cannot carry something as complicated as this through to brilliance on their own. The film emerges as a character sketch where, surely, the painterly Hooper will have wanted a full portrait.
The Danish Girl is release in UK cinemas on January 1st 2016.