Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Queen Christina (1933)

“There are rumors that your Majesty is planning a foreign marriage.”
“They are baseless.”
“But your Majesty, you cannot die an old maid.”
“I have no intention to, Chancellor. I shall die a bachelor!” 

            The first time I ever heard the name Queen Christina I was reading a book about the Vatican. Queen Christina was queen of Sweden in the 1600s. She abdicated her throne when she converted to Catholicism and lived in Italy for the rest of her life where she was a great patron of the arts. Christina is one of the very few women to be buried in the Vatican. How fitting of MGM to make a film based off this queen in 1933 starring their current Swedish queen of the box office Greta Garbo. MGM of course glamorized Christina’s life because her life was not romantic in any sense but that is what the studio did best with their historical pictures. Queen Christina, although not a critical success in the States, offers one of Garbo’s best film performances.
            Christina has been queen of Sweden since she was a young girl when her father died in battle. Her father raised her as a boy and as a young woman she wears men’s clothing and lives her life as a man. Christina becomes a beloved leader to her people. She ends the war that her country has been in ever since she can remember. The men in her court want the war to continue but she sees no reason for it she sees them as just wanting to fight.
            With the issue of war settled her chancellor keeps pestering her about marrying the war hero Prince Charles. The people want her to marry him as well but she does not love and has no intentions to marry him at all. Mad at what she is hearing she runs out of the castle and goes riding on her horse. Christina sees a caravan held up in a ditch and she laughs that they are stuck in the snow. The caravan is carrying the Spanish ambassador a very handsome man named Antonio. She helps them get out of the snow and Antonio thinks her to be a boy and hands her a gold dollar. That night Christina goes to an inn just to get away from everything. The keeper believes her to be a man as well and she goes with it so no one will bother her. Antonio and entourage come to the inn seeking shelter from the snow. They sit down and speak as men. The inn keeper tells Antonio that the best room was given to Christina. There is a situation over the sharing of the room but Christina agrees to share it with Antonio. At first when they undress for bed she is hesitant but then lets the hesitation go. Antonio knows who she is and says he felt her presence as a woman.
            Christina and Antonio happily spend five days together at the inn due to a snow storm. The lonely queen feels happy with her ambassador. When the snow finally clears enough for them to leave they hate to have to be apart. When Christina returns to her castle she has dresses made for when she sees Antonio again. When Antonio lays eyes on Christina again she is sitting on her thrown in a beautiful gown and a smile on her face. He is caught off guard by her beauty and stops what he is saying in mid sentence to look at her.
            The queen and the ambassador spend several more happy weeks together. Their happiness is interrupted when the treasurer a man named Magnus who loves Christina gets jealous of them being together and spreads rumors and gossip causing unrest among the court and the people. The people storm the castle but they have nothing to say. Christina tells them that she does not interfere with their personal lives so they should not interfere with hers. Now she is left with a big decision whether to let Antonio go and give the people what they want by marrying Prince Charles.
            As I said this is a glamorized version of an historical story so I am hoping you know that Garbo does abdicate to be with the one she loves. Also if you know anything about Garbo’s dramas her lovers always suffer because of her.
            Greta Garbo was flawless. Her performance was so touching and so beautiful. Her face never looked more beautiful. I love hearing her laugh she had a beautiful charming soft laugh. This was the first time I have ever seen John Gilbert in a film. Even with an awful wig and a fake mustache the man was so handsome. He was a very good actor it is a shame that Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg became so cruel to him and ruined his career. Garbo originally wanted Laurence Olivier in the lead but there was so chemistry between them so she suggested her old screen partner John Gilbert. Gilbert and Garbo made several silent films together and were very heavily romantically involved. Gilbert proposed to Garbo but she left him standing at the altar from cold feet. You can see their chemistry together it never went away.
            Queen Christina a very good film but I would not recommend it to anyone who is not a Greta Garbo fan or does not have an interest in seeing her films. The film is gorgeous and stunning but it to someone who does not like Garbo or cannot appreciate a well made film I can see where it could be slow and boring. The cinematography by William Daniels is stunning, he was the favorite lighter of Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford as well as Garbo and with good reason. Every scene no matter what it was was beautifully lit.  Queen Christina for a Garbo fan or an old Hollywood fan is a beautiful film with great performances and if you can appreciate it then I suggest seeing it.