Tom Hooper’s 2010 The King’s Speech dealt with the true story of a man struggling with his physical problems and it garnered him a best director Oscar. Hooper is aiming for Academy Awards territory again with another true tale, this time of a man struggling to live as a woman.

Eddie Redmayne stars as Einar Wegener, a successful Danish landscape artist, married to the feisty and fun Gerda (Alicia Vikander), herself a talented painter. We see the loving couple in Copenhagen as they trip lightly through a swirl of parties and shopping, inaugurations and working, their thoroughly modern lifestyle contrasting with the city’s newspaper-hat-wearing fishwives and grim patrons. When Gerda needs Einar to sit for her, he dons a pair of stockings and squeezes into some embroidered slippers. Holding a dress to his body, he is overcome by the feel of it against him. How they giggle when a friend catches them! Later, when Gerda discovers her husband wearing her silk nightgown under his clothes, far from being horrified or concerned she embraces his fetish and encourages him to dress as ‘Lili’ and attend a soiree. Beforehand, we have lots of scenes of the two gleefully choosing outfits, Einar running his hands down the rows of furs, velvets and satins.

Vikander plays Gerda with a naughty and playful vitality, gritting a cigarette holder between her teeth and rolling her eyes at the city doyens’ pomposity. She’s a great foil to Einar’s more delicate and pensive character. However, as Einar gradually allows Lili to take over, his character lacks development: Redmayne plays him predominantly with batting eyelashes and simpering smiles, the transition from Einar to Lili all too easy, despite his protestations and the blinkered diagnoses of a multitude of doctors. Gerda’s own transformation from cheeky girl to desperate and strong-willed woman is more tortured and nuanced.

One of the main problems with the film is Lucinda Coxon’s screenplay. Unlike David Seidler’s intelligent and funny script for The King’s Speech, here there are too many clunky conversations and they take place over ridiculously long times. When Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts), an old friend of Einar’s, asks Gerda if she is married, the two characters are walking down a street. Yet it takes her until they are settled in a restaurant to answer his question. It would also seem that Gerda only became successful once her art took on a new level when she painted her husband as Lili. Another issue is the ubiquitous Alexandre Desplat’s overbearing piano music that from the start announces that we are about to have our emotions manipulated.

On the plus side, Hooper has created a mainstream film about the world’s first transgender, bringing a potentially divisive subject to audiences who might otherwise shy away. The costumes (by Paco Delgado, who collaborated with Hooper on Les Misérables) are divine, though they are perhaps too divine, Einar/Lili and Gerda seeming to have a bigger wardrobe budget than their means suggest. Redmayne and Vikander make a charming couple and there’s a minxy little turn from Amber Heard as their ballerina friend. Schoenaerts looks a little ill at ease here, as well he might with some of the dialogue being spouted, but he has a wonderful presence and sincerity. Tom Hooper may not have created a masterpiece, but this is a visually attractive film about a fascinating subject.