The film was screened in the main competition section of the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, and it was shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. The film was released in a limited release on 27 November 2015 by Focus Features in the United States. The film was released on 1 January 2016, in the United Kingdom, with Universal Pictures International handling international distribution.
The film received some criticism for its inaccurate portrayal of historical events, but Redmayne and Vikander's performances received widespread acclaim and nominations for all of the major acting awards. Vikander won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and Redmayne was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. It was also nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best British Film.
In mid-1920s Copenhagen, portrait artist Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) asks her husband, popular landscape artist Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), to stand in for a female model who is late to come to their flat to pose for a painting she's working on.
The act of posing as a female figure unmasks Einar's lifelong identification as a woman, who named himself Lili Elbe. This sets off a progression, first tentative and then irreversible, of leaving behind the identity as Einar, which he has struggled to maintain all his life. This takes place as both Lili and Gerda relocate to Paris; Gerda's portraits of Lili in her feminine state attract serious attention from art dealers in a way that her previous portraiture had not. It is there that Gerda tracks down art dealer Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts), a childhood friend of Lili (whom Einar/Lili had kissed when they were young). Hans and Gerda's mutual attraction is a challenge, as Gerda is navigating her changing relationship to Einar/Lili; but Hans' long-time friendship with and affection for Einar/Lili cause him to be supportive of both Einer/Lili and Gerda.
As Einar's/Lili's continued existence presenting as male becomes too much to bear, she starts to seek help from psychologists, but none yields any result, and, in one instance, almost leads her into being committed to an asylum. Eventually, at Hans's recommendation, Einar/Lili and Gerda meet Dr. Kurt Warnekros (Sebastian Koch). Dr. Warnekros explains that he has met several people like her, who are physically male but identify as female, and proposes a new, innovative and controversial solution: male to female sex reassignment surgery. This would entail a two-part procedure that involves first removing Lili's external genitalia and then, after a period of recovery, fashioning a vagina. He warns them that it is a very dangerous operation that has never been attempted before, and Lili would be one of the first to undergo it. Lili immediately agrees and, soon after, travels to Germany to begin the surgery. Unfortunately, her eagerness to shed the vestiges of the male anatomy leads her to rush the sequence of procedures, and Lili eventually dies of complications from the surgery. The film ends with Gerda and Hans on a hilltop back in Denmark, in front of the five trees Lili had painted. The scarf that Lili had originally given Gerda, and that had subsequently been given back and forth several times, is carried away on the wind, dancing.
Screenwriter Lucinda Coxon worked on the screenplay for a decade before it was produced. She told Creative Screenwriting:
I started in 2004 and within a couple of years we had a script we were happy to send out. We were terribly excited and I was fantastically naïve, because when you fall in love with a project, you assume that everyone else will be in love with it as well. The actors were very much in love with it. Several well-known actresses wanted to play Gerda, but the subject matter made it quite difficult to find someone to play Lili. We scheduled various directors and with each director came a new draft.
In September 2009, Tomas Alfredson revealed to Variety that production on the project would precede that of his upcoming Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy adaptation, adding: "We have been in talks for close to a year, and we are soon going into production". In December 2009, Swedish newspapers reported that Alfredson was no longer attached to direct The Danish Girl and would begin work on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy next. Alfredson said he regretted that reports of him working on The Danish Girl spread before the deal was finalized. He also said that he still wanted to make the film and might return to the project.
On 12 January 2010, Swedish director Lasse Hallström told Swedish media that he had been assigned to replace Alfredson as director.
In 2008, Nicole Kidman was originally attached to play Einar/Lili and would also produce the film through her company Blossom Films. Charlize Theron was originally slated to play the role of Gerda Wegener but, after leaving the project, was replaced by Gwyneth Paltrow. Paltrow then left the project due to location changes. Uma Thurman was also a rumoured replacement. In September 2010, Marion Cotillard was rumored to be the lead candidate for the role of Gerda Wegener.
On 11 June 2010, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that the film had received €1.2 million ($1.5 million) in subsidy financing from Germany's NRW Film Board. The conditions of the deal include the planned 19-day shoot in Germany. In February 2011, Screen Daily reported that the film would begin shooting in July of the same year and that Rachel Weisz would play Wegener. In May, it was revealed that both Weisz and Hallström had left the project.
On 28 April 2014, it was announced that Tom Hooper would direct the film with Eddie Redmayne as the lead. On 19 June 2014, Alicia Vikander was announced in the cast. On 8 January 2015, Matthias Schoenaerts joined the cast.
Filming was projected to start in Spring 2010 in Berlin. Coxon revealed to Creative Screenwriting that, when filming finally began with Hooper, he actually filmed an older version of the script:
We had probably gone through 20 drafts before landing Tom Hooper. In fact, the one we shot was actually an early revised draft that Tom had read back in 2008. I did a fairly large rewrite for Tom, but in the end, we used a version with little revision from the original.
Filming began in February 2015, where Redmayne was spotted on set. Filming also took place at Nyhavn, where the iconic waterfront was transformed to look like Copenhagen in the 1930s. Sets for the Danish and Paris flats were built in the Elstree Studios in London and additional shooting took place in Copenhagen and Brussels. Production on the film concluded on 12 April 2015. Filming took 44 days for the 186 scenes in six countries.
Post-production ended in September 2015. According to composer, Alexandre Desplat, post-production was very fast, with the film being cut as Desplat was writing the score, which was recorded only a week prior to the film's premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
Hooper revealed to Indiewire and After Ellen that the film's ending is different from the novel (in which Gerda and Hans stay together) and real life (Gerda and Lili were not together in Lili's final days), and he de-emphasized the importance of the Hans storyline because he did not want to feel that there was a love possibility for Gerda with Hans that could in any way rival Lili. He wanted it to be ambiguous whether it would turn into a love affair, rather than a friendship, because he saw Lili and Gerda as the loves of each other's lives. He took the script in that direction to protect the importance of their relationship.
In an interview with MTV International, Vikander revealed that two scenes featuring Amber Heard dancing were cut from the film, as well as stating the first cut for the film was over 2 hours.
On 4 March 2015, Focus Features set the film for a limited release on 27 November 2015. The film had its world premiere at the 72nd Venice Film Festival on 5 September 2015. Universal Pictures handled distribution in other territories outside the U.S., with a release on 1 January 2016, in the United Kingdom.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 1 March 2016 in the United States.
The first image of Redmayne as Lili Elbe was revealed on 26 February 2015. A pair of posters of Redmayne and Vikander were then released in August, On 1 September 2015, the first trailer was released. on 19 November 2015, The first clip from the film was released.
The Danish Girl has grossed $11.1 million in North America and $53.1 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $64.2 million, against a budget of $15 million.
The film had a limited release in the United States and Canada across four cinemas in New York and Los Angeles on 27 November 2015 before expanding cinemas in December. The film earned $185,000 in its opening weekend, averaging $46,250, which is the sixth-best opening weekend per cinema average of 2015. The opening weekend’s audience was 58% female, and 67% were over 40.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 68% based on 214 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6/10. The consensus reads "The Danish Girl serves as another showcase for Eddie Redmayne's talent -- and poignantly explores thought-provoking themes with a beautifully filmed biopic drama". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 66 out of 100, based on 41 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Independent film website FilmDebate credited The Danish Girl as the 'most important film of 2015', stating that 'This is not only the best movie of the year, but it is the most important. The story and performances come together in the truest of ways to make a film that the whole world needs to see and get behind.'
The film's acting, particularly that of Redmayne and Vikander in the lead roles, received considerable acclaim, with Marie Asner of Phantom Tollbooth stating that "the acting is what makes this film" and Damien Straker of Impulse Gamer writing that "two commanding performances give it a gripping emotional weight that is very affecting". Redmayne's performance was described as "another sterling example of just how deeply he can immerse himself into a role" by Jim Schembri of 3AW, and as "revealing, heartbreaking and believable" by Linda Cook of Quad-City Times.
Kyle Buchanan, writing for Vulture, complained that it was part of a trend of "queer and trans films that are actually about straight people", while Paul Byrnes for The Sydney Morning Herald said it was "a lost opportunity" in which "the frocks are more convincing than the emotions." Casey Plett, a transgender writer, criticized the script in a conversation in The Walrus as "atrocious and boring", going on to say "It’s like someone got inspired by a Shakespeare tragedy, then combined the verbosity of R.L. Stine with the subtlety of Brendan Fraser."
It has also been criticized for being written similarly to forced feminization erotica, obscuring the actual story of a historical trans person, and for being based on a fictional book that does not tell the true story of Lili and Gerda Wegener.
Alicia Vikander was awarded the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film, the film's only Oscar win out of the four nominations, a decision that the Academy was heavily criticized for as Vikander has about 1 hour of screen-time which is 50% of the film's run-time which qualifies her for a Best Actress Oscar. It was actually a decision made by the film's distributor, Focus Features, to campaign Vikander for the Oscar and all other prizes in the supporting actress category, in which many supportive wives have been nominated and even won. She was intentionally shortlisted for a supporting actress as she would have been competing against Brie Larson for her role in Room, which would have decreased her chances of winning while the supporting actress category had little competition.The film is based on the novel The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff. The novel, as Ebershoff has stated, does not try to tell a true story. He not only imagined most of what he wrote about Elbe's inner life, but also created all of the other characters in the book, such as Hans and Henrik, both characters present in the film. Despite many inaccuracies, the film was marketed as a "true story" and "a true love story". Director Tom Hooper stated that the film is closer to the real story than Ebershoff's book.
The character Ulla Paulson is a fictionalized version of Anna Larssen, a Danish actress and preacher and very good friend of Einar/Lili and Gerda. She was born on September 12, 1875 and died on March 6, 1955. Although she has some fictional characteristics such as a change in her name and having a side career as a ballerina, the real Anna Larssen was in fact late for a meeting with Gerda to pose for a painting, therefore Einar had to step in and fill in for Larssen at her own suggestion over the telephone, by putting on the dress and stockings which allowed his repressed feelings as a woman to resurface as he enjoyed wearing the clothes. It was Larssen who came up with the nickname Lili after walking in on Einar filling in for her while Gerda encouraged the nickname. Larssen was reportedly quoted as saying "You know, Andreas, you were certainly a girl in a former existence, or else Nature has made a mistake with you this time."
The film begins in 1926, when Lili was 44 years old and Gerda was 40. Their marriage lasted 26 years (1904-1930); they were respectively 22 and 18 years old when they got married. The film only mentions that Lili and Gerda had been married for 6 years.
Gerda was a natural blonde and blue-eyed woman (as she used to be portrayed in her self-portraits) with pale skin, while Alicia Vikander is a natural brunette with brown eyes and natural olive skin. Vikander had to wear blonde wigs while filming the movie, and she also revealed to The New York Times that the filmmakers were obsessed with the fact that she did not look Scandinavian and paled her skin, to make her lighter.
Gerda was 43–44 years old during the events portrayed in the film. Lili was 47 years old when she underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1930, and died the following year, at 48. Eddie Redmayne was 33 years old during filming, while Alicia Vikander was 26.
Lili and Gerda moved to Paris in 1912, when they were 30 and 26 years old, respectively. The film appears to imply they moved to Paris in the late '20s. Paris was remarkably liberal in the 1910s and 1920s, which is the reason why Gerda and Lili settled there and Gerda lived openly as a lesbian in the city. The scene in which Lili, dressed in men's clothes, is beaten by two men in Paris after being assumed to be a lesbian is fictional.
Lili's post-transition name was Lili Ilse Elvenes. The name "Lili Elbe", the only name used in the film, was made up by Copenhagen journalist Louise "Loulou" Lassen.
Topics including Gerda's sexuality, which is evidenced by the subjects in her erotic drawings, and the disintegration of Gerda and Lili's relationship after having their marriage annulled in 1930, are omitted in both the novel and the film.
Gerda's famous Lesbian Erotica paintings are never mentioned in the film, nor the fact that she was not present during Lili's last operation and death, but was living in Italy with her second husband, Italian officer Fernando Porta. Gerda divorced from Porta in 1936, did not have children, and never married again. She returned to Denmark, took to drinking, and died penniless in 1940. The character Hans Axgil did not exist in her life and was merely a loose inspiration from Porta, though the real Fernando Porta was not a childhood friend of Einar/Lili.
Lili's boyfriend at the time of her last surgery and death was French art dealer Claude Lejeune, whom she hoped to marry and have a child with. There is a photo of Lili and Lejeune together dating from 1928, when Lili was still legally married to Gerda. Lejeune is not mentioned in the film. The character Henrik is a fictional creation and is only loosely inspired by Lejeune.
An important factor surrounding Lili's death was omitted from the film; she died from organ rejection due to a uterus transplant (her fifth operation) in 1931, at the age of 48, but in the film she dies after the second sex reassignment surgery.
During the last scene, when Gerda and Hans are standing by Vejle Fjord, mountains are present in the background. Denmark has no mountains. The scenes were shot at the Mount Mannen in Norway and at the Isle of Sheppey in England. This historical inaccuracy was a conscious choice by the director, who later apologized to Danish people for his mistake.
Lili was not the first transgender woman, nor the first to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Dora Richter (born as Rudolph Richter in 1891, and sometimes referred to as Rudolph R.), who even early on in childhood displayed a "tendency to act and carry on in a feminine way", was castrated at her own request in 1922, when Magnus Hirschfeld arranged for a bilateral orchidectomy (castration) for her and began investigating the impact that reduced testosterone had on her anatomy. She worked as a domestic at the Magnus Hirschfeld Institute for Sexual Research, dressed as a woman. Hirschfeld affectionately called her Dörchen (little Dora) and published her transformation process as a transvestite in his work on gender studies Geschlechtskunde. Institute physician Felix Abraham published Dörchen's gender transformation as a case study: "Her castration had the effect - albeit not very extensive - of making her body became fuller, restricting her beard growth, making visible the first signs of breast development, and giving the pelvic fat pad... a more feminine shape." In June 1931, when Dora Richter/Dörchen R. was about 40 years old, her penis was amputated by the Institute physician Dr. Levy-Lenz, and then an artificial vagina was surgically grafted by the Berlin surgeon Prof. Dr. Gohrbandt. Dora becomes the first trans woman of whom records remain to undergo vaginoplasty. According to Dr. Felix Abraham, a psychiatrist working at the Institute for Sexual Science, her "first step to feminization was made by means of castration" in 1922. "After this there was a long pause, until the beginning of the year 1931, when the penis amputation was done and in June, the here described surgery" - a highly experimental vaginoplasty performed by Dr. Erwin Gohrbandt, (1890-1965). The highly experimental operation (which included the first attempt at vaginoplasty) was a remarkable success and the resulting publicity was enough to lure Lili to the Institute. Lili's case was far more high-profile that Dorchen's. Lili became the second trans woman to undergo Gohrbandt's vaginoplasty technique in 1931. Her castration and penectomy had been performed by Dr. Ludwig Levy-Lenz (1889–1966) the previous year. These preliminaries have sometimes caused confusion over the date of Lili's reassignment surgery. Gohrbandt's surgery deliberately leaves remnants of the scrotum intact, with a view to modifying these into labia at a later date, but, for reasons that are unclear, he did not perform this further procedure himself. Instead, Elvenes' case was taken over by the Nazi Party member Dr. Kurt Warnekros (1882–1949) at the Dresden Women's Clinic. Here, the labiaplasty and a subsequent surgical revision led to Lili's death from infection in September 1931. The ritual book-burning at the Institute for Sexual Science by Nazi students in May 1933 and the destruction of the Dresden Women's Clinic and its records in the Allied bombing raids of February 1945 has left gaps in knowledge of the life of Lili Elbe.
The film has been banned in Qatar on grounds of moral depravity, and also in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, and Malaysia.