With his gender-bending role in this movie can Eddie Redmayne add to his Theory of Everything success and win his second Best Actor Oscar?
Director Tom Hooper’s semi-fictionalised tale of two real-life Danish painters, Einas and Gerda (Redmayne and Alicia Vikander), who embarked on a ground-breaking journey to turn Einas into the enigmatic Lili certainly looks handsome enough and the production values are first class. But at the heart of this film you have to really believe in the transformation on an emotional level and even an actor of Redmayne’s calibre can’t quite pull that off.
Set in 1926 Copenhagen and later in Paris, in a cultural, Bohemian world of artists, singers and ballet dancers, it initially shows Einas and Gerda as a happily married couple, deeply in love and enjoying their somewhat gilded youth. But after taking the place of a female subject for one of Gilda’s paintings, Einas starts to embrace his feminine side slowly transforming as she/he creates the character of the mysterious Lili.
Lili proves to be a stronger pull than Einas can resist – a siren who leads him to undertake gender reassignment surgery – a highly dangerous operation at a time before antibiotics.
The problem for Eddie Redmayne here isn’t that he doesn’t paint up well as a girl – because he does – it’s just that he’s acting opposite one of the most naturally beautiful and talented actresses of her generation.
Alicia Vikander exudes a softly radiant blush of youth that puts Redmayne’s Lili in the shade. Redmayne also makes the mistake of playing Lili in an overly feminine way – winsome smiles, the soft flutter of eyelashes and head tilted gently to one side. This may be the way a man thinks you play a woman but it is not the way a woman is a woman; her gestures, tics and mannerisms are far less self-conscious than this, as Vikander so perfectly demonstrates.
The film often looks like a painting with beautiful lighting and colour and some memorable scenes where Copenhagen itself almost seems to become a character within it, but there is never enough of an emotional pull to Lili’s plight to make this story completely absorbing and enthralling. In a strong list of nominations for Best Actor, Redmayne’s second Oscar may have to wait for another year.