On this day in 2015, The Danish Girl was released in theaters. A biographical romance about a trans woman who received one of the first gender-affirming surgeries ever, this film was created by the artistic and sensitive mind of Lucinda Coxon.
Lucinda Coxon is an English playwright and screenwriter, known for telling comedic contemporary stories as well as riveting historical tales. She began her career writing for the stage, composing several plays over the course of the early 2000s.
Two of Lucinda’s most beloved plays, Herding Cats and Happy Now? depict young people grappling with the struggles of regular people; the drama is the type that we’ve all experienced, and the comedy comes from the sheer relatability of Lucinda’s characters.
Herding Cats is about three interconnected strangers who struggle with 21st century living in their own ways. Justine deals with an infuriating boss, while Michael works for a service in which he chats with strangers, and Saddo is one of the strangers he chats to. For the three of them, life’s problems are as difficult as “herding cats.”
Happy Now? centers around a young professional woman who, after a conversation with a man at a conference hotel where she’s staying for business, spirals as she grapples with an overworked teacher husband, parents who are on the brink of divorce, and friends undergoing mid-life crises of their own. Happy Now? had an extremely successful run at the Yale Repertory Theater. Lucinda earned a nomination for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, and won the Writer’s Guild Best New Play Award.
Amidst her playwriting career, Lucinda also delved into the world of screenwriting.
Amidst her playwriting career, Lucinda also delved into the world of screenwriting. One of the first films she wrote, Lily and the Secret Planting (2001), was in keeping with the subject matter of her plays. The film stars Winona Ryder as Lily, a young woman feeling trapped as she lives with and takes care of her mother who struggles with vertigo. Lily decides to secretly plant a garden in a central area of town, where she meets and promptly falls in love with a nursery owner’s assistant.
A year after Lily and the Secret Planting, Lucinda entered the historical fiction genre with The Heart of Me (2002). Set in London during World War II, the film revolves around a complex love triangle involving two sisters, Dinah (Helena Bonham Carter) and Madeleine (Olivia Williams), and Madeleine’s husband, Rickie (Paul Bettany). Though in a different time frame and setting, The Heart of Me similarly explores the true drama of everyday people.
Lucinda’s most affecting film to date is The Danish Girl (2015), which she adapted for the screen from the novel of the same name by David Eberschoff.
The Danish Girl tells the story of Danish artist Lili Elbe, who undergoes one of the first known gender reassignment surgeries in history.
One day, Einar Wegener’s wife – Gerda Wegener – asks “him” to stand in for a female model she is painting. As Einar poses, her true identity as Lili is unlocked, setting her on a path to gender affirmation. The Danish Girl explores Lili’s complex struggles with identity and self-acceptance – as well as Gerda’s determination to support Lili – in a time when transness was barely understood and certainly not normalized. And even though she was not nominated, Lucinda’s superlative screenplay lead to a second Oscar nomination for Eddie Redmayne (as Lili) in the Best Actor category, and a first Oscar win for Alicia Vikander (as Gerda) in the Best Supporting Actress category.
It must be said that the casting of Eddie Redmayne as Lili in this film was a problematic choice, as the role should certainly have gone to an actual trans woman. However, Lucinda as the writer surely had her heart in the right place when telling Lili Elbe’s story. In her review of the film, FF2 contributor Jessica Perry says, “director Tom Hooper and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon have succeeded in delivering a beautiful and emotionally poignant film.”
Whether it is a contemporary comedy or a historical drama, Lucinda invites us into the inner lives of her characters, making their struggles, triumphs, and developments feel like our own. Lucinda’s plays and films show us that sometimes, to do something simple very well, makes for the very best story.
© Julia Lasker (11/27/23) Special for FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Jessica Perry’s review of The Danish Girl here.
Watch The Danish Girl here.
Watch The Heart of Me here.
Learn more about Lili Elbe here.
Learn more about Gerda Wegener here.
Visit The Danish Girl’s IMDb page.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener in the film THE DANISH GIRL (2015). Photo Credit: Cinematic / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID:2JE3AD1
Photo of Lili Elbe (1926) downloaded from Wikipedia. London: Jarrolds, 1933. Photograph: Lili, Paris, 1926 (CC by 4.0)
Photo of Gerda Wegener (1904) also downloaded from Wikipedia & now in the Public Domain.
Bottom Photo: Screenwriter Lucinda Coxon at the 67th BFI London Film Festival in London (UK). Photo Credit: See Li / Picture Capital / Alamy Live News. Image ID: 2T1A5W6