Tuesday, 23 August 2011

1,001 Films: "Queen Christina" (1933)

It ends up as tragedy, but for much of its duration, Rouben Mamoulian's Queen Christina plays as a comedy in which seduction becomes a form of diplomacy; and - in the form of Greta Garbo - diplomacy has rarely appeared so seductive. Her Christina is the free-thinking Swedish monarch who, in the middle of a war against Philip's Spain, does the unthinkable in falling for the visiting Spanish envoy (John Gilbert), enraging her admirers and supporters on the home front, and forcing her to choose between fulfilling her duty and following her heart.

Much to enjoy, not least Garbo and Gilbert engaging in all manner of pre-Hays Code fruitiness in a long bedroom scene: they feed one another grapes, and Greta literally rubs herself up against the furniture. The downside of all this worldly sophistication is a strong whiff of elitism: the film doesn't have all that much faith in Christina (and thus Garbo)'s subjects, portraying the masses as tittle-tattling sheep who sup ale and molest serving wenches when they're not stumbling blindly into wars and insurrections. Garbo's big speech on refusing to let her heart be dictated to by the tyranny of the mob is probably going to be best appreciated by Prince Charles on his next trip to Klosters.

Queen Christina is available on DVD as part of Warner's Greta Garbo Collection boxset.

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