Queen Christina (1933)

“I do not wish to marry, and they cannot make me!”

Synopsis:
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?

Genres:

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

Must See?
Yes, for Garbo’s iconic performance. Nominated as one of the Best Films of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Queen Christina (1933)”

  1. Agreed – a once-must, mainly for Garbo’s performance. She is genuinely exciting to watch in this film, and the camera loves her as well. She looks simply marvelous throughout (that final close-up shot is stunning) and is fully invested in her portrayal.

    In 2015, Mika Kaurismäki directed ‘The Girl King’, which (though I’ve not yet seen it) offers up a more accurate portrait of Christina. According to the director: “We found out that Garbo wanted to make a different film. She wanted to do the love story between the two women (Christina and Countess Ebba). But Hollywood of the 1930s was not ready for that. So they did a conventional love story between a man and a woman. I think the film we made is the film that Garbo wanted to make.”

    ‘Queen Christina’ does hint at the lesbian relationship (it seems the Queen was not actually bisexual) – it’s not that hard to pull it out of the dialogue between the women – but apparently MGM still fabricated heterosexuality for them as well. It’s sort of amazing, anyway, that what’s there is there.

    Squelched sexuality aside, Garbo more than manages to firmly grab hold of the elements of her character that are both factual and censorship-free.

    Along the way, director Mamoulian accommodates her – and the film in general – quite well with his trademark attention to detail. For a film of its type, it moves along smoothly. As usual, we just have to look elsewhere if we want enlightenment regarding more of the facts.

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