Queen Christina (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Rouben Mamoulian|
|Produced by||Walter Wanger|
|Written by||S. N. Behrman (dialogue)|
|Screenplay by||H. M. Harwood|
|Story by||Margaret P. Levino|
|Music by||Herbert Stothart|
|Cinematography||William H. Daniels|
|Edited by||Blanche Sewell|
Queen Christina is a pre-Code Hollywood biographical film, produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1933 by Walter Wanger and directed by Rouben Mamoulian. It stars Swedish-born actress Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in their fourth and last film together.
The film portrays the life of Queen Christina of Sweden, who became monarch at the age of six in 1632 and grew to be a powerful and influential leader. As well as coping with the demands of being a war-leader during the Thirty Years' War, Queen Christina is expected to marry a suitable royal figure and produce an heir. However, she falls in love with a visiting Spanish envoy whom she is forbidden to marry because he is a Roman Catholic; she must choose between love and her royal duty.
The film was a major commercial and critical success in the United States and worldwide.
Queen Christina of Sweden (Greta Garbo) is very devoted to her country and the welfare of her people. As queen, Christina favors peace for Sweden. She argues convincingly for an end to the Thirty Years' War, saying:
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 of 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!
Christina, who first took the throne at age six upon the death of her father in battle, is depicted as so devoted to both governing well and educating herself that she has spurned any kind of serious romance or marriage despite pressures from her councilors and court to marry her heroic cousin Karl Gustav (Reginald Owen) and produce an heir. One day, in an effort to escape the restrictions of her royal life, she sneaks out of town, disguised as a man, and ends up snowbound at an inn, where she has to share a bed with the similarly stranded Spanish envoy, Antonio (John Gilbert), who is on his way to the capital. They become friends; in the bedroom, she reveals that she is a woman. They share the same bed as lovers; however, she still has not revealed that she is the queen. After a few idyllic nights together, Christina and Antonio are compelled to part, but Christina promises to find him in Stockholm. She does: When the Spaniard presents his embassy to the Queen, he recognizes her as his lover. Antonio is angry, because he has come to present an offer of marriage from the King of Spain to Queen Christina, and he feels that his loyalty to the king has been compromised. She makes it clear that she will not accept the king's proposal, and Christina and Antonio patch up their differences.
When Count Magnus (Ian Keith), who wants the Queen's affections for his own, rouses the people against the Spaniard, Christina abdicates the throne, naming her cousin Karl Gustav as her successor while refusing to marry him. She leaves Sweden to catch up with Don Antonio, who has just left for a neighboring country, but she finds him gravely wounded from a sword duel with Magnus, which he lost. Antonio dies in her arms. She resolves to proceed with her voyage to Spain, where she envisions residing in Antonio's home on the white cliffs overlooking the sea.
The film was released in December 1933. It was directed by Rouben Mamoulian and written by H. M. Harwood and Salka Viertel, with dialogue by S. N. Behrman, based on a story by Salka Viertel and Margaret P. Levino. Leading roles are played by Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, in his penultimate film. Gilbert died in January 1936 from heart attacks exacerbated by alcoholism. He had been a huge star in the silent era, but the enmity of studio head Louis B Mayer cast a pall over his career.   Garbo herself insisted on Gilbert as her co-star. It was the fourth and last time that they were in a film together.
Queen Christina was billed as Garbo's return to cinema after an eighteen-month hiatus. Prior to the shooting, while on holiday in Sweden, the actress read a treatment by Salka Viertel about the life of Christina and became interested in the story. At the time of shooting the film, Garbo was 28, the same age as her character.
Queen Christina is a historical costume drama, loosely based on the life of 17th-century Queen Christina of Sweden and still more loosely on Strindberg's history play Kristina. A number of historical characters appear in the film, including Charles X Gustav of Sweden and Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie. Some historical events, such as the Thirty Years' War, are represented in the work, although Queen Christina is not a film that adheres closely to the facts. In this highly fictionalized account, it is falling in love that brings Christina into conflict with the political realities of her society. In real life, Christina's main reason for abdication was her determination not to marry, to live as she pleased and to openly convert to Catholicism.
The romance with Antonio is fiction. In real life, Christina was devoted to her maid of honor, friend and “bedfellow”, Ebba Sparre. Ebba does appear in the film. Christina kisses her twice, chastely, and any suggestion of a mutual relationship is firmly blocked by a scene in which Christina comes upon Ebba and Count Jakob meeting on a staircase. Christina immediately leaves for what will be her encounter with Antonio, When Christina returns, she apologizes to Ebba and promises she may marry her beloved Count. The real Ebba did marry Count Jakob, but the marriage was unhappy.
The film is correct in stating that Christina's father had her raised as if she were a boy, with the education and responsibilities expected of a male heir. Her habit of dressing as a man continued throughout her life: "I shall die a bachelor!" she declares in the picture, wears men's clothes and disguises herself as a man. She was indeed adamant about making peace, and was a patron of science, art and culture, dreaming of making Stockholm the "Athens of the North". 
The film is remembered for two iconic scenes. The first one, more than three minutes long, shows Christina walking around the room, having spent two nights with Antonio at the inn. She examines and caresses various objects to imprint the space on her memory. The second one, arguably the most famous image in the film, is the closing shot, showing Christina standing as a silent figurehead at the bow of the ship bound for Spain. With the wind blowing through her hair, the camera moves into a tight close-up on her face. Prior to shooting the final scene, Mamoulian suggested that Garbo should think about nothing and avoid blinking her eyes, so that her face could be a "blank sheet of paper" and every member of the audience could write the ending of the film themselves. Amusingly, this shot also contains one of the greatest continuity errors in movie history: The wind blowing Garbo's hair is moving in the opposite direction from the wind filling the ship's sails.
Critical reception and box office
The film premiered on December 26, 1933 in New York City, and throughout 1934 in the rest of the world.
Queen Christina turned out to be a success with the critics, gathering many positive reviews. Critic Mordaunt Hall, writing for The New York Times, gave the film a positive review and liked the screenplay, calling the dialogue "a bright and smooth piece of writing" and referred to Mamoulian's direction as "entrancing". Positive opinions came also from Modern Screen's Walter Ramsey, who proclaimed it a "triumph for Garbo", and a reviewer for Photoplay, who acclaimed Garbo's "glorious reappearance".
Motion Picture Daily called the film "creaky in spots" but reported that Garbo "does beautifully" and that the film was "well above the average in content and value." The New York Daily News wrote, "The picture moves a little slowly, but with grace, from one lovely setting to another. It is a picture that must not be missed, because Garbo is at her best in some of its scenes."
Some reviews were more mixed. "Garbo overwhelms the picture", wrote John Mosher in The New Yorker. "The story, the setting, her support cannot live up to her." Variety found the film "slow and ofttimes stilted", though it wrote that Garbo's "regal impression is convincing, which counts for plenty." The Sun of New York wrote that "Garbo seems to be suffering from an acute case of glamour. And that is probably not her fault. Gilbert tried very hard, but his performance is a little stilted. Queen Christina misses fire, somehow, and that is disappointing."
According to the AFI Catalog and to TCM's Frank Miller, despite the critical acclaim, the film did not do well at the American box office, grossIng $632,000 on an investment of $1.4 million. “It would be years before foreign revenues and reissues brought the film into the profit column.”  According to Barry Paris, writing in 1994, that final tally was: “Cost: $1,144,000. Earnings: domestic $767,000; foreign $1,843,000; total $2,610,000. Profit: $632,000“ .
It was nominated for the Mussolini Cup award at the Venice Film Festival in 1934, but lost to Man of Aran. The part of Queen Christina is regarded as one of the best in Garbo's filmography. The film is especially notable for its resoundingly disproving rumours that John Gilbert's lack of success in the sound era was due to an unsuitable voice.
Leonard Maltin gives the film 4 out of 4 stars: “Probably Garbo's best film, with a haunting performance by the radiant star as 17th-century Swedish queen who relinquishes her throne for her lover, Gilbert. Garbo and Gilbert's love scenes together are truly memorable, as is the famous final shot...”
One of the most educated women of the 17th century and the guest of five consecutive popes in Rome, Queen Christina abdicated her throne and converted to Roman Catholicism. She is one of few women buried in the Vatican grotto. The Spanish connection in the film makes little sense except as a typical "Hollywood" distortion of history—unless it is understood as an allegory, with her love for Don Antonio representing her love of the intellectual life and her embrace of the Catholic faith.
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