Without question this is a fascinating bit of history, an emotionally satisfying story, and a tale of love. As with Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, it takes on historical characters and breathes life into them.
And that is the dichotomy of a story like this: there are two aspects to it that inevitably come into the viewing. There is the historical bit and the story bit. The history takes care of itself. I can’t vouch for the accuracy, but it feels possible and depicts the society and people in interesting ways.
The characters, led by Oscar winner and current nominee Eddie Redmayne (Jupiter Ascending) and current nominee Alicia Vikander (The Man from UNCLE) have wonderful chemistry and comfort with one another. It really is a relationship you can’t help but admire. I’m not sure I believed it as written, but you want to wish it was that way. Matthias Schoenaerts (A Little Chaos), Ben Whishaw (London Spy), Adrian Schiller (A Little Chaos), and Amber Heard (Magic Mike XXL) add notably to the background for the couple.
The challenge with this film is belief. Not in the events, but in the interactions and the decisions. Unfortunately, the script relies on viewers to fill in some critical gaps, particular for Vikander’s Gerda, whose understanding of her husband’s needs and realities takes a huge and unexplained leap more than once in the story. For Redmayne’s Einar/Lili, there are also some rather sudden shifts made. As Lili, Redmayne was very believable, but as Einar he often felt forced rather than in discovery. One moment even brushed up against Silence of the Lambs in a very disturbing way; though I understood the moment, it was a distraction.
I don’t deny the story may have happened as depicted, but Coxon’s script, or Hooper’s edits, left out some of the supporting moments to help pull it together for me. That said, they did take their time to build the story, which was also important.
The movie, while wonderfully acted and directed with care, just doesn’t feel complete. It, simply, doesn’t give us quite all the moments we need to understand the choices and statements. It isn’t an easy job to do, but I do wish they had done it a little better. That gap was all that held this film back from being brilliant, and it does explain that, for all the Oscar buzz, it hasn’t quite found an audience. The weaknesses don’t ruin the film, but they do lower my impression of the overall result. But make time for it when you can, just keep the hype from over-stoking your expectations.