Movie Review: Queen Christina (1933)

queen christinas

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge. Recommended by Andreas.

Inspired by the actual historical figure of Queen Christina, colorful and controversial queen of Sweden from 1633-1654, Queen Christina begins with the title character’s assumption of her throne at the age of 6, after her father is killed in battle during the Thirty Years’ War. She grows up a serious, studious woman (Greta Garbo) who feels more comfortable in men’s clothes and devotes her rare solitary hours to reading classic literature and plays. She dedicates herself fully to being a good ruler, though after years of war over religion in Europe she questions the benefits of it versus the cost. She hopes to see her country move past violent conflict and instead establish itself as a new cultural center. She is eventually pressured into marrying, which she has no plans to do, but accepts visits from various European envoys who hope to convince her to make an alliance. During a casual horseback ride before a snowstorm she is held up at a mountain inn where the Spanish ambassador, Antonio (John Gilbert), also stops, and after mistaking her for a man the two strike up an easy friendship, which leads to a passionate affair when he realizes she is actually a smoking hot babe.

Let me first say that since seeing this movie I’ve been wikipediaing the real Christina and she was a pretty fascinating, unconventional lady, and I’m into that. The movie fictionalizes and adjusts various aspects of her life, but does get some things right, and regardless of fact it’s a really excellent film. The settings and costumes are lavish, the supporting cast is good, the story moves along steadily, there’s a bit of political satire and a lot of sexual undertones, and even a pretty clear lesbian relationship (based on history). But of course it’s really all about the star. Garbo stomps around boldly, looking striking in fancy men’s clothing and cropped hair, confidently making proclamations about the future of her country and generally being a complete and utter badass. She’s just so kingly, so larger than life, and yet still real and complicated and funny. She’s an enormous presence, and the film is entirely about her.

At least halfway into the story, if not more, John Gilbert’s character is introduced, and their romance is pretty sexy (seriously, they have sex for like three days straight after knowing each other for a few hours, and it’s like, damn, medieval rich people could do it). But it’s not really the focus, it’s more an instigation for her to question her own life and experiences. She’s been ruler of Sweden almost her entire life, been at war her entire life, been at the mercy of her courtiers and advisers and military commanders, been restricted to her castle. Meeting the poetic Antonio opens up the world to her, both emotionally and mentally, as she realizes how dissatisfied she is with her life as queen. She wants to see the world, meet different kinds of people, and generally do things for herself instead of for her country. The real Queen Christina felt similarly–though her choices and options were also affected by her conversion to Catholicism–but she is often considered selfish and frivolous by people today. I liked that the film made her so sympathetic, and her actions understandable. My favorite thing, and this is a spoiler, is how the ultimate resolution sees her basically turning into a seafaring solo adventurer! Like, she’s just a woman without a man and without a country but with a shit ton of confidence and some wanderlust. Can I get that sequel?

Basically this movie is fantastic.


Pair This Movie With: I actually still haven’t seen it but a coworker who loves this movie recommended Elizabeth as a pairing, she said they just go together really well as depictions of badass independent queens.

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