In The Light Between Oceans, Michael Fassbender, plays a stoic World War I veteran, who falls truly, madly and deeply in love with Alicia Vikander as Isabel. It’s not uncommon, it seems all of Hollywood adores the twenty-seven-year-old Swedish actress.
The New York times praises her “the gamin bone structure, that sullen pout, those velvety fawn eyes,” and producer Lionel Wigram declared, “She’s a star. You can’t take your eyes off her on screen or in person.”
Her talent and versatility have made her so in demand it’s hard to believe that in her late teens drama school twice rejected her. According to her those dismissals were a blessing in disguise as they allowed her earlier access to “an industry that prizes youth in women.”
This weekend she takes on the romance of The Light Between Oceans as a precocious woman who asks a man she has just met to marry her. Based on an acclaimed and bestselling book by M. L. Stedman, it’s a story about choices, honour and true love that plays like a highbrow Nicolas Sparks story in period clothes. It also showcases Vikander’s range. In the last two years she has played everything from the personification of artificial intelligence to the estranged daughter of Hitler’s favourite rocket scientist.
After success in Swedish language film and television, Vikander made an impression in under seen films like the lushly beautiful Anna Karenina opposite Keira Knightley and Testament of Youth, a World War I era story of one woman’s voyage into pacifism.
It was Ex Machina, however, that made her a star. She played an automaton named Ava created by tech wiz Nathan “The Mozart of Code” Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is hired to evaluate if the robot’s ability to show intelligent behaviour equal to, or undifferentiated from, that of a human being. Ex Machina is presented as sci fi, but it really is a human drama; a human drama where the main character has a fibre optic nervous system. Vikander is equal parts warmth and chilly precision as a robot who wants more than to be a machine.
Next Guy Ritchie cast her in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and if he had Frankensteined an actress for the role of Gaby in the mould of 1960s starlets, he could not have topped Vikander as a picture perfect representation of mid-century cool. She looks like she was born to wear the oversized sunglasses and Mary Quaint frocks but she’s more than just the romantic interest.
In The Danish Girl Eddie Redmayne plays the title role, transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, and while he has the showier part it is Vikander, as Elbe’s ex-wife, who won a Best Supporting Oscar for holding the screen as the film’s emotional core, a woman who valued her relationship regardless of the changes that came her way.
Most recently she starred opposite Matt Damon as CIA’s cyber ops head Heather Lee in Jason Bourne and soon we’ll see her in the thriller Submergence with James McAvoy, Eva Green’s Euphoria and in the period piece Tulip Fever with Christoph Waltz. Perhaps the biggest indication of her industry clout is that she recently announced she’d be stepping in for Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in the rebooted Tomb Raider series.
Richard’s “Canada AM” reviews for the new releases “In the Heart of the Sea” with Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in “Carol,” Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl” and “Youth” with Michael Caine!
As Caitlin Jenner graces the covers of magazines and films her own reality show, “The Danish Girl,” takes us back to a time when doctors prescribed “treatment for perversion” for transgender pioneer Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne).
Based on David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel, when we first meet painter Einar Wegener (Redmayne) it’s the mid-1920s and he’s married to struggling portraitist Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander). They’re happy and supportive, but a shift occurs when he dresses in female clothing to pose for one of Gerde’s paintings. It’s a playful moment and they even create an alter ego for the model, Lili Elbe. For Gerde it’s a lark, for Einar a revelation. Years of confusion come into sharp focus as he realizes he was born into the wrong gender and takes extreme steps to become the person he knows he should be. “It doesn’t matter what I wear,” he says, “it’s what I dream, they are Lili’s dreams.”
Health professionals suggest locking him up and electro therapy to “cure” him. “Do you keep a lock on your wardrobe?” asks one doctor. “You must not encourage this kind of behaviour.” Hope for the life she always dreamed about comes from a German sexologist who offers risky experimental sex reassignment surgeries. “God made me a woman,” says Lili. “The doctor is healing me of the sickness that was my disguise.”
“The Danish Girl” is Redmayne’s movie. It’s a delicate, studied performance but one that reveals the character’s inner strength. Lili lives in hope, hope for the life she was meant to live, hope that she will get to live it. Redmayne is sensitive and sensual as he sheds Einar’s affectations to become Lili.
Vikander has a less showy role, but holds the screen as the film’s emotional core, a woman who valued her relationship regardless of the changes that came her way.
The film itself hits the emotional notes, but feels a bit too glossy overall. Director Tom Hooper’s camera caresses every scene, luxuriating in the finely wrought period details giving a “Downton Abbey” sheen to the whole thing when a more raw approach would have lent some urgency to the story. The quietly melodramatic presentation showcases the actors but lessens the story’s impact.
“The Danish Girl” is a zeitgeisty movie that gives a “Masterpiece Theatre” veneer to a timely and important story.