August 11, 2019
Queen Christina (1933)
Grade: 57/100

Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Stars: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Lewis Stone

What it's about. A biopic of Queen Christina, a 17th century ruler of Sweden. Christina ascends to the throne as a child (Cora Sue Collins) upon the death in battle of her warrior father, King Gustav (C. Montague Shaw). By the following scene, the babe has grown up to be Greta Garbo.

Christina enjoys mannish pursuits, such as riding and hunting and spending quality time with her two court favorites, brunette Ebba (Elizabeth Young) and arrogant Count Magnus (Ian Keith). Christina has an aged servant, Aage (C. Aubrey Smith), and an aged advisor, Oxenstierna (Lewis Stone). The latter presses her to marry Prince Charles (Reginald Owen), the leading general in Sweden's ceaseless wars.

But Christina rebels against the court intrigues of marriage. She creates the male persona of Count Dohna, dresses the part, and vacations at a country inn. There, she befriends Spanish ambassador Antonio (John Gilbert). They spend days in bed together, where Antonio eventually learns that Dohna is a woman. But he doesn't yet know she is the queen of Sweden.

Vacation over, Christina returns to court. A surprised and irked Antonio shows up to sell the queen on a marriage offer with his employer, the King of Spain. But, Christina is much more interested in Antonio. This provokes the jealousy of Magnus, who agitates the public against Antonio, a Catholic in Protestant Sweden.

In response, Christina abdicates, so she can elope with Antonio. Alas, he is killed in a duel with Magnus. But she is determined to live in Antonio's distant castle, regardless.

How others will see it. This pre-code flick could never have passed the Hays Production Code, which went into effect the next year. Not only does she sleep in the same bed with a man she is not married to, but there are numerous allusions to her bisexuality. She greets Ebba with a kiss on the lips, she refuses to marry, and dresses as a man, at least until her tryst with Antonio. It is all she can do to pass up a good time with Elsa (Barbara Barondess), set up by obliging innkeeper Ferdinand Munier.

Some regard this role as her best, though she was passed over for an Oscar nod. What matters, though, is that the film was the most successful of the year for MGM. It remains popular today, for a movie from 1933, with 6,637 user votes at The user ratings are fairly high, ranging from 7.5 among men under 45, to 8.2 among women over 45. Apparently, women accept Garbo/Christina as a feminist icon, someone who does whatever she pleases despite pressure from various men to do their bidding.

The box office success of Queen Christina did little for the career of its leading man, John Gilbert. The role was seen as a sop dispensed for old times sake by Garbo. Gilbert and Garbo had previously been love interests in Flesh and the Devil (1926), Love (1927), and A Woman of Affairs (1928). Gilbert, formerly an A-list star, made only one film after Queen Christina, and died just three years later, purportedly from alcoholism.

How I felt about it. It's bad history. There are not one, but two, implausible death scenes. In the movies, heroes always linger long enough to say just the right thing moments before passing. Wikipedia confirms that Christina was an unpopular queen due to her extravagent spending. The romance with Antonio is a complete fiction.

During her scenes as Count Dohna, it is patently obvious that "he" is a woman. The audience is asked to pretend that no one except her servant, Aage, knows that Dohna is in fact a ravishing blonde, until "Dohna" strips for Antonio.

We can grant Hollywood some artistic license. After all, everyone in the film Casablanca speaks only English. There is some truth to Queen Christina, in that those around her are constantly stymied by her independence. Certainly, the costumes are impressive, and the film is mostly watchable. But it remains unconvincing throughout.