I was expecting to love this film, an examination of self discovery with Eddie Redmayne playing Einar Wegener, the first person to undergo gender reassignment surgery, set in 1920s Denmark. And there is a lot to like. Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, who plays his wife, act their Oscar nomination worthy hearts out. The cinematography, costumes, music,make up and ambience are sumptuously gorgeous. But it was all a bit too glossy and perfect, I didn’t feel the struggle that it must have been for Wegener, both in society and within himself. The film was more interested in showing us how the emerging Lilli Elbe learned to copy feminine gestures than in the despair that must have driven him to undergo such a dangerous and experimental surgical procedure.
Beautiful but ultimately lacking, it was all a little too superficial for me and I didn’t feel emotionally connected to any of the characters by the end of the film.
Since I began going to see films at the new Cineworld (with an unlimited ticket) I’ve broadened the genres that I might usually choose. A spy drama, especially with a Cold War plot, would not normally be my first choice but I was prepared to go with an open mind especially as the main protagonists were played by Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. I surprised myself by enjoying it. Hanks rarely disappoints and this was role was no exception. He plays Jonathan B. Dawson, the insurance lawyer recruited to defend a Russian spy, Rudolf Abel, in court and then broker a high level swap of Abel for a captured US pilot negotiating between the US, Russia and East German. An upstanding, all American lawyer (think Atticus Finch but played by Jimmy Stewart) he doesn’t shirk when asked to do his patriotic duty and travels to an intimidating and dangerous East Berlin to get the job done. The city itself with all its menace and new order chaos was a cold, dark character in the story and Dawson having his coat stolen and getting a cold, only served to emphasise this. I was concerned for him and wanted him back home safe and WARM.
It was Mark Rylance, playing Abel, who stole the show for me, however. A wonderfully dour and laconic performance as the Russian spy whose response to questions on whether he is frightened or worried is ‘Will it help?”. Although he is an anti-American baddie I was rooting for him to be safe and warm too. I would have liked to have discovered more about this man’s background. I did some research after the movie to discover that he was born in Newcastle on Tyne to Russian emigre parents but how and why did he become a spy?
For me, the culture difference between the US and UK is never so obvious as when watching films and in US movies the ‘heartwarming’ scenes often stick in my cynical British throat. This included a scene near the end of the film when Hanks’ character gazes out of a train window and smiles at the glory that is suburban America of the early 60s, drawing us to compare the evil and horrific East Berlin to this cosy, apple pie vision. Far from being comforted I was thinking..well yes, very nice, but aren’t there race riots going on around the corner. Cosy for you maybe, you white, middle-class lawyer.
I may be being followed Jesse Plemons. On TV I’ve been watching the wonderful Fargo in which he plays the butcher or more accurately ‘The Butcher of Laverne’. He also popped up as a henchman in Black Mass and again in Bridge of Spies, as a pilot. I’ve just checked the cast of Sisters..he’s not in it..phew!