In the 17th century Queen Christina, a woman raised to be a king and probably the most colorful and intriguing person in Swedish history, abdicated the throne in order to leave her country. The pretext was converting to Catholicism and she smuggled in Spanish priests to teach her church doctrine before her clandestine departure. Rouben Mamoulian decided to make a movie about it in 1933 and enticed Greta Garbo back to Hollywood who was at that time on an extended visit in Sweden. The film opens with Christina dressed in what we would call today comfortable attire for a woman- tunics and tights. Remember this is the woman raised to be a king. Her closest relationship is her lady in waiting Ebba Sparre which in letters from this period kept in Sweden convey a deep devotion between the queen and her servan.This has been a source of discomfort for the royalists in Sweden who would do anything to hush up Christinaís alleged lesbianism. Even the cousin of Greta Garbo was furious with letters between Mercedes de Acosta and Garbo about their love relationship.
Early in the film we learn that Ebba Sparre has a boyfriend and that she has only been nice to the queen out of duty.
Meanwhile a Spanish courier played by John Gilbert has come to Sweden to meet the queen, and as such this is another twist of the historical legend about Christina with regards to the Spanish priests who came to teach her. Garbo dressed in kingly attire shares a bed with the courier and later falls in love. She immediately dons dresses as proof of her heterosexual conversion and ending of her childish love with Ebba Sparre.
Garbo is excellent as the queen and was eager to play the role. Itís amusing to see the devotion of her people to her as regent and their sadness when she is going to leave them. All the restrictions put on Christina as a member of the royal family, urged to marry her duplicitous cousin, are freely discarded when she has the possibility to travel south to a warmer climate away from the coldness of Sweden. According to historical records, the philosopher Rene Descartes visited Christina and died in the cold giving her lessons about philosophy. Garbo shows how a difficult choice is made splendidly and with courage by leaving her country and people. Rouben Mamoulian may have taken great liberty to changed the historical facts to fit his film but itís a very entertaining one especially because Garbo is in every scene.
© 2006 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 8/2006
USA - 1933