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Queen Christina, 1933.


"NO, CHANCELLOR. I SHALL DIE A BACHELOR."

I.

THOSE WORDS WERE SAID BY THAT OF GRETA GARBO, the Garbo. It was said for the role of the title character, Queen Christina of Sweden, a well-liked monarch who is faithful to her people at her father's passing, almost too faithful, for when she falls in love with a Spanish envoy, she has a hard time choosing between the throne and the man she loves.

THE FILM IS A PRE-CODE, biographical film based on the life of the real Queen Christina of Sweden, who became monarch at the age of six in sixteen thirty-two. Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and directed by Rouben Mamoulian it stars the Swedish-born actress, Garbo & John Gilbert, in what would become their fourth and last film together. 

WITH THE DEMANDS OF BEING a war-leader during the Thirty Year's War, Queen Christina is also expected to marry and produce an heir to the throne. Numerous suitors have thrown themselves at her feet, each for their own selfish urges. She indulges in these affairs, though remains unfavorable towards marriage, even when showing disapproving emotion when these affairs go nowhere and she is shown just how misleading some can be. Some of these affairs are with women as well as men. This is, of course, a single example of how to tell if a film is pre-code, this and the fact for much of the film, she is dressed like a man. 


QUEEN CHRISTINA WEARS the face of each expectation placed upon her. With her people growing more unruly and the masks of what they believe her to be, a fragile woman, a brilliant leader, a ruler of high intelligence. And Christina wears each one of them over that of Garbo's own magnificent face, with the strain and ache of war, not with her people, but with herself. 

ALL OF THIS CHANGES after she meets ANTONIO, a Spanish envoy played by John Gilbert, who is sent to present her with another suitor. The two meet in the wilderness where he mistakes the Queen for a man, and when the two meet once again, this time in a pub, he still believes this. And because of the overbooking of rooms at the pub, the two are forced to share a room. When the two have to change, it is then he finds out that the man is a woman, but he still does not know her title as Queen.

THE TWO SPEND the next couple of days together, in pure and simple sexual bliss. GARBO is sensual, pleasing to all sexes and genders. There are few films as sensuous as QUEEN CHRISTINA. From eating grapes overhead to stroking a bedpost. She has found herself without chains, no responsibilities, and best of all, no image she needs to confined to. He fell in love without the charms of a woman, nor the title he thought of. He fell for how he saw her, this beautiful, smart, asexual human who needed to be unchained from the hardships, those of which he ignored himself. She has unmistakable power of her image within these scenes, to be someone else, or to be her true self. 


SWEDEN IS OF COURSE, less-than-thrilled about the pair. Including that of a jealous Count Magnus (Ina Keith), who gathers the nobles and peasants against their Queen. Though this does little, as her powerful leadership and wit see her through.

I CANNOT FIND THE WORDS to explain the rest without fear of spoiling the rest of the picture. I suppose a quick, she must come to face with her decisions and consequences. As the Count's final push forces the Queen to make an unforgettable sacrifice. Though I would like to touch upon the last scene, as she stands out looking at open waters, she stars outward, the camera does not follow her gaze, nor does her face hold an expression, she is maskless. The director told Garbo to "think of nothing" to get this shot. Making the film leave within a middle ground, an uncomfortable one, one for the audience to read to their own desire. It's a beautiful and haunting scene.

II.

THE FILM WAS BASED ON A STORY by Salka Viertel and Maragaret P. Levino. Garbo was on vacation in Sweden when she read the book and wanted to do a film on it. This would be her return to film after an eighteen-month hiatus. She also insisted on John Gilbert, an ex-lover of hers, as her co-star, and whose career had been on a rapid decline since the rise of talking pictures, to the agitation from the studio. Some have called Gilbert the weak link within the film, I don't entirely agree, nor do I disagree. I think he has his strong points at moments and at others, lags behind Garbo's powerful screen presence.

QUEEN CHRISTINA IS ALSO MENTIONED HERE.


"AND AFTER A YEAR of negotiations, she agreed to renew her MGM contract, on the sole condition that she would star in QUEEN CHRISTINA, nineteen thirty-three"

WHEN IT COMES TO historical accuracy the film focuses on the "romanticizing of its subject, more than informing of its subject." Lots of things are correct and some not. The real Queen Christina was well-read and enjoyed the company of women and indeed dressed in men's clothing and shoes. The Spanish connection in though is false. Perhaps her love and admiration for that of Antonio represent that of her love of the intellectual life, of literature and art and math, and her embrace of the Catholic faith. Which was the real reason she "gave up the throne."


THE FILM WAS A MAJOR commercial and critical success, in the United States and overseas. And sparked Garbo's return to the screen. "THE GARBO THRILL IS BACK IN YOUR LIFE." 

"I HAVE BEEN MEMORIZING THIS ROOM. IN THE FUTURE, IN MY MEMORY, I SHALL LIVE A GREAT DEAL IN THIS ROOM."


R.