“I’m tired of being a symbol, Chancellor, I long to be a human being! This longing I cannot suppress.”. Greta Garbo as Queen Christina states victoriously to Chancellor.
Just the title itself is regal, but when you combine it with the mystique charm and sexual allure of Greta Garbo, it rings Pre-Code. That magical genre from a bygone era filled with stars with indelible traits, who left an air of distinction on that unforgettable period.
Queen Christina is not your average Pre-Code. It’s a biographical account on Christina of Sweden, the wonder of Europe with the blazing vitality, intelligence and wit, who defied the nation by abdicating her throne on June 6th, 1654.
As with the case of a lot of biographical productions, the film does not closely depict facts. Instead it is loosely based on the life of Christina of Sweden, and contains a few elements that did eventuate during the life of the historical figure. Apart from a number of authentic characters and real life history events, the story is mostly built up to make it more appealing to audiences and to showcase the acting ability of Greta Garbo. The main fictitious component is that the movie has Queen Christina abdicating her throne because of her growing love affair with Antonio, but in real life, Christina abdicated her throne due to her strong determinations to never marry.
Even though “Queen Christina” represented a myriad of false facts, the film turned out to be triumphant and garnered an array of accolades and positive reviews. Many critics noted Garbo’s performance to be glorious and superbly acted, while some say that the film was creaky in spots, but Garbo does beautifully and overwhelms the picture by making it well above average in content and value.
Written for the screen by Salka Viertel, the film spotlights a prestigious cast which include, Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in their fourth collaboration, as well as other notable stars, who all deliver solid dexterity under the masterful direction of Rouben Mamoulian.
After the death of her father in battle, six year old Christina is first given the throne and promises the world that she will serve Sweden favorably. Many years later, Christina remains loyal to her country, but spurns any serious romance or marriage with Karl Gustav ( Reginald Owen ) and rejects the pressures from her counselors who implore that the couple must elope.
Eluding her royal life, and with strong yearns to be a woman, Christina disguises herself as a male and sets off by horse, but ends up snowbound at a crowded inn, where she is forced to share a bed with the Spanish envoy, Antonio ( John Gilbert ), who is on his way to the capital.
Once discovering that Christina is a female, but still incognizant of her true identity, Antonio falls in love with Christina, and spends a few blissful nights together. When the snow clears, the two are compelled to part, but after becoming attached to each other, they promise to meet up in Stockholm, and Antonio who simply does not want to live without Christina wants to spend the rest of his life with her in his Spanish home situated on the white cliffs overlooking the sea.
Back at the royal quarters, Christina meets Antonio again when he presents his embassy to the Queen. Now that her true identity has been revealed, the couple get themselves amid a few altercations, but after clearing things up they become infatuated in each other and plan to live happily ever after. With this latest dilemma, Christina must decide between the throne and the man she loves, resulting in one of the most memorable finales in cinema history.
“Queen Christina” is a superbly crafted masterpiece. While it is only loosely based on factual events, the film provides outstanding material, exquisite settings, and a great script abound with miraculous cinematography that make for it’s consummate status.
To add to the already lush production is the superlative performances by the powerful cast. Greta Garbo is absolutely mesmerizing and presents a thoroughly convincing portrayal of the Swedish Queen by perfectly executing the important decisions and strong desires she ensued. The chemistry between Garbo and Gilbert is undeniable. You only have to witness the idyllic scene in their suite at the inn where Garbo glides serenely around the room examining each item to imprint the space on her memory, while Gilbert stares glowingly into her eyes displaying nothing but love and affection for Christina.
Sadly John Gilbert passed away less than three years after filming wrapped up. Gilbert had suffered from extreme alcoholism in his life, and by 1934, his addiction had severely damaged his health. However no effects from years of heavy drinking are evident in “Queen Christina”. Here he delivered an exceptional portrayal of Antonio, and since this is his second last film, it gave Gilbert the opportunity to end his career on a triumphant note.
“Queen Christina” is not only one of Greta Garbo’s finest films, it’s one of the most meritorious productions to ever come out of Hollywood. The film sparkles with magic galore, and features a truly spellbinding and unforgettable finale. It’s the true definition of movie making to perfection.
The scene where Christina goes around the room at the inn, remember the night she spent with her lover, was choreographed so meticulously that Greta Garbo performed the scene to a metronome.
For the famous closing shot of Greta Garbo at the prow of the ship, director Rouben Mamoulian had wanted the camera to begin with a long shot, and then, in one unbroken take, gradually dolly in on a two-thirds close-up of Garbo’s face, holding on her at the end of the shot. Unfortunately, with the camera’s 48mm lens that close to the human face, pores tend to resemble craters on the surface of the moon. Borrowing on aspects of the magic lantern, Mamoulian devised a large, ruler-shaped, glass filter strip that was clear at one end, becoming increasingly more diffused along its length. With this glass filter mounted in front of the lens, as the camera moved in on Garbo, the glass strip was gradually drawn through the filter holder, beginning with the clear end, and ending with the diffused end (close-up), softening Garbo’s facial features with more flattering result.
Since John Gilbert was falling out of favor with the majors as a leading man, Greta Garbo was doing him a big favor by requesting him as the male lead. Unfortunately, the film did not help to re-establish Gilbert, and soon after he dropped out of pictures altogether.
Cora Sue Collins played six year old Christina.
Queen Christina: “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.”
Queen Christina: “I’m tired of being a symbol, Chancellor, I long to be a human being! This longing I cannot suppress.”
Queen Christina: “Snow is like a wide sea. One could go out and be lost in it, and forget the world… and oneself.”
Queen Christina: “I have *imagined* happiness. But happiness you *cannot* imagine. Happiness you must feel! Joy, you must feel.”
Greta Garbo: Born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson on September 18th, 1905 in Stockholm, Sweden. Died: April 15th, 1990 in New York. Aged 84.
John Gilbert: Born John Cecil Pringle on July 10th, 1895 in Logan, Utah. Died: January 9th, 1936 in Bel Air, California. Aged 40.