The increasingly prominent discussion of transgender rights in recent years is long overdue, so it’s hardly surprising to see a topical issue of the day examined through the lens of an individual’s struggle for sexual identity almost a hundred years ago. Based on a 2000 novel which was itself inspired by the lives of Danish painters Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, this is a noble and well-intentioned attempt to humanise one of the first known recipients of sex change surgery, but its manipulation of historical events and clumsy handling of its gender politics somewhat muddy the waters of an already complex and controversial issue.

The director Tom Hooper has form with dramatising real-life events (The Damned United, The King’s Speech, even Les Misérables), but he runs into some trouble here due to a number of reasons. The casting of Eddie Redmayne, who is not trans, to play a trans person is the main stumbling block – by denying a trans actor the right to such a role is by itself transphobic. The liberties taken with real-life events also seem to have been done to conform to unhelpful stereotypes about trans people, and to obscure the life of a trans person in such a way is hardly doing that person justice. These problems are all valid concerns, but the film’s good intentions and outstanding lead performances almost make up for them.

A welcome, topical and long overdue examination of a famous trans person's life8
Falling into the very transphobic traps that you would expect it to avoid4
Another transformative performance from Eddie Redmayne8
With this and Ex Machina, Alicia Vikander has given the two best performances of the year9
Essentially a queer film made by, and for, straight people4
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The named female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • n/a
7Overall Score

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