Two days after winning last year’s Oscar for his heart-rending turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne began filming The Danish Girl. It’s the true story of artist Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery – and it’s bagged Redmayne another nomination for best actor.
Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe
The story begins in 1926 when Lili is still landscape painter Einar Wegener and lives with his wife in Copenhagen’s old harbour, Nyhavn. In the 18th century, it was a busy commercial port awash with sailors, brothels and alehouses. Nowadays, it’s a charming spot: brightly coloured townhouses line a cobbled street and old wooden ships bob on the other side (pictured above). The city’s most famous resident, fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, lived at numbers 18, 20 (where he wrote The Tinderbox and The Princess and the Pea) and 67.
Director Tom Hooper and his team removed any traces of modernity – motorboats, the café tables and music that spills out onto the pedestrianised street – and brought in sailboats, fisherwomen and hats made from newspaper. Many of the houses have belonged to artists down the years because the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts is only a short stumble away – in Charlottenborg Palace, a handsome mansion on the corner of Nyhavn and Kongens Nytorv.
Einar and wife Gerda (played in the film by Alicia Vikander) really did meet and study here. In The Danish Girl, it’s also the setting for Einar’s first outing as Lili at the artists’ ball. The Academy’s exhibitions and events are open to the public – or you can simply sit on the steps like Gerda, admiring the view. Across the square is the Old Stage, the original 1874 venue of the Royal Theatre, Det Kongelige Teater. It’s used mostly for ballet these days – just as it is in the film.
The home of Henrik in the film; Nyboder
The rococo style of Kongens Nytorv is very different to the winding streets of Copenhagen’s old town. The broad boulevards of this district – Frederiksstad – also have a cameo in the film: they double as Parisian boulevards. It’s one of the city’s most fashionable neighbourhoods, where you can browse antiquesshops and art galleries. Einar and Gerda also enjoy a romantic stroll down Magstraede, a street in the old town that escaped the fires that ravaged Copenhagen in 1728 and 95. Nowadays, the colourful houses are listed buildings and often pop up in photoshoots.
Nyboder, the red-roofed terraced street where Ben Whishaw’s character Henrik lives, also dates back to the 17th century. (The interior is a Victorian house in Princelet Street in east London.) Originally a naval barracks, Nyboder was the handiwork of King Christian IV – Denmark’s royal builder – who ruled from 1588 to 1648.
When Einar and Gerda move to Paris, she’s swept up by a high society in thrall to art nouveau, which was in full swing in the early 20th century. For those scenes, Hooper took cast and crew to Brussels for its art nouveau architecture. So Lili’s old friend Hans’s house is the Horta Museum on rue Américaine in the Saint-Gilles district. The museum was once the house and studio of art nouveau artist Victor Horta – keep an eye out for the wrought-iron stairway, which is often bathed in sunlight from a stained-glass ceiling.
The Danish Girl is released on DVD on 9th May
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