“I do not wish to marry, and they cannot make me!”
The headstrong queen (Greta Garbo) of 17th century Sweden is pressured to marry a prince (Reginald Owen), but falls instead for a handsome Spanish ambassador (John Gilbert). Will she choose loyalty to her position and her country, or her heart?
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that in this “marvelous historical drama”, Greta Garbo gives “her greatest performance” as Queen Christina, “one of the best-written, strongest female characters in cinema history — a leader who steadfastly refuses to crumble under the unmitigated pressures from her powerful male advisors and relies on her distinctly female brain, heart, and instincts to rule well”. He notes that “Garbo glows in the role. Never has she displayed such vitality, intelligence, or passion. (Only in Ninotchka is she as witty.)”, and adds that “the direction by Rouben Mamoulian is exquisite; particularly impressive are his close-ups, including Garbo’s head on the pillow at the inn and the astonishing, lengthy final shot of the star’s beautiful face”. In Alternate Oscars — where he names Garbo Best Actress of the Year — Peary elaborates on her performance, noting that “never did she display such wit, intelligence, energy, or passion in a part; never did she invest so much of herself in a character.” He points out the “many moments to be treasured” throughout the film — including “Christina silently walking around the chamber which she has shared with Don Antonio [Gilbert], memorizing everything with her fingers, eyes, and body”. Indeed, a big part of what makes this film so refreshing is its frank approach to Christina’s sexuality and gender presentation: she wears what she wants to, struts with confidence, mingles with men at will, has a highly sensual affair with Gilbert, and isn’t shy about expressing her bisexual desires back at home in her court. This memorable “biopic” remains well worth a look.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Greta Garbo as Queen Christina
- William Daniels’ cinematography
- A refreshingly frank pre-Code script
Yes, for Garbo’s iconic performance. Nominated as one of the Best Films of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)