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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Queen Christina (1933) - Star of the month... Greta Garbo

'Queen Christina' is a 1933 pre-code costume drama directed by Rouben Mamoulian, and starring the divine Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. It was the fourth and last time Garbo and Gilbert starred together in a film. In my opinion it is Greta Garbo's best film and best performance.

Greta Garbo as Queen Christina
resting her head against a pillow
The supporting cast includes Ian KeithLewis Stone, Elizabeth Young, C. Aubrey Smith and Reginald Owen. Look out for Akim Tamiroff who appears uncredited as Pedro.

Christina of Sweden (played by Garbo) becomes Queen as at the age of 6 following the death of her father King Gustavus Adolphus in battle. As a young woman, Christina's court and council wish her to marry her hero-cousin Karl Gustav (played by Owen) and produce an heir to the throne. 

Fed up with being told what to do, she sneaks out of the palace disguised as a man, where she meets Antonio, a stranded Spaniard. After revealing herself to be a woman, the two spend the night together and fall in love, without Antonio knowing she is the Queen. Christina eventually relinquishes her throne to marry Antonio, however their love is cut short after he is killed in battle

Greta Garbo in the film's final scene -
Possibly the most iconic image of Garbo

Two iconic scenes

'Queen Christina' features two iconic scenes:
  • The first is where Christina is shown walking around the room, following her night with Antonio - Christina touches various artefacts in the room to imprint the space on her memory
  • The second is the closing frame, showing Christina standing as a silent figurehead at the bow of the ship headed towards Spain - the camera zooms in for a close up as the wind blows through her hair

Watch the final image in the film here:

Queen Christina

Greta Garbo as Queen Christina
Queen Christina of Sweden is one of the two great Queens of the middle ages, the other being Queen Elizabeth I.

What I like most about Queen Christina is a woman of integrity and has the guts and confidence to stand up against her court and do what is right. For example, understanding the loss of life and negative impacts of war, she ends the thirty year war, and demands peace: 
"Spoils, glory, flags and trumpets! What is behind these high-sounding words? Death and destruction, triumphals of crippled men, Sweden victorious in a ravaged Europe, an island in a dead sea. I tell you, I want no more if it. I want for my people security and happiness. I want to cultivate the arts of peace, the arts of life. I want peace and peace I will have!"

Precode elements

 'Queen Christina' is considered to be what is called a Pre-Code film - films made before 1934 which were not subject to strict censorship of the Hollywood Production Code.  We are forunate the film was made in 1933, as had it been a year later, the end result would have been quite different.

Some of the notable events in the film which would not have been permitted in 1934 include:
  • Queen Christina's bisexuality - the scene where Garbo passionately kisses Countess Ebba Sparre is one of the earliest lesbian kisses in Hollywood history
  • Queen Christina cross-dressing disguised as a man
  • Queen Christina's line "I should die a bachelor!", as this presents the Queen identifying herself as a man
  • Queen Christina and Antonio sleeping in the same bed
  • Queen Christina bragging about having 12 lovers in the past month

Did you know...

  • Laurence Olivier was originally intended to play Antonio, however Greta Garbo insisted the role be given to her former frequent co-star and lover John Gilbert, whose career was declining - the film failed to revive his career and Gilbert died a few years later

Closing remarks

Whenever I think of royalty on film, Queen Christina is always the first thing which comes to mind. I really like this film a lot, and have seen it a number of times. We are treated to Garbo's haunting performance as the 17th century Queen, as well as some of the most controversial images in 1930s Hollywood.

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