Jolly Cinema > 16:30


Rouben Mamoulian


Wednesday 28/06/2023


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

A woman who has become an institution craves to be a woman. In Mamoulian’s films, the opportunity to live an ordinary life is snatched away from characters and they struggle to win it back. Queen Christina, next to Dr Jekyll, is the character who enjoys the highest exultation and pays the highest price to claim freedom of the soul.
Set in the 17th-century Swedish Empire, the film follows the ascension of  the six-year old Christina to the throne, through to her adulthood when pressure mounts on the “bachelor queen” to marry and produce an heir for the dynasty. By chance, she encounters the King of Spain’s ambassador (played by a then washed-up John Gilbert) and a case of mistaken gender (she’s in drag) turns seamlessly into mistaken identity. As a result, the Empire faces the biggest threat to its sovereignty: love. This is more about Garbo, historically and metaphorically, than the Swedish queen. Some of the dialogue by S.N. Behrman, full of sexual innuendo and brilliant philosophical wit, has the ring of Garbo’s own autobiographical confessions.
In the famous post-coital scene portraying the ecstasy of Queen Christina’s love, Mamoulian asks Garbo to walk in sync with a metronome around the room and caress objects, memorising every inch of that place. Garbo’s sexual ambiguity (highlighted in the scandalous episode where she kisses a woman on the mouth) and her ageless modernity makes the transformation from icy queen in trousers to love-goddess believable, prefiguring Ninotchka and subsequently Mamoulian’s own Silk Stockings.
Mamoulian avoids the slew of flawless close-ups that Garbo was gifted by directors like Clarence Brown. Instead, he saves the opportunity to study her face for three occasions only, each time, daringly, in order to evoke emotions on the edge of darkness. The first close-up harbours doubt. The second one shows her in a rare moment of dread. And then there’s the final shot of the final sequence, one of the most profoundly moving in 1930s cinema. “I want your face to be a blank sheet of paper,” Mamoulian told Garbo. He asked her to be no more than a beautiful mask and all of a sudden, Garbo’s paraffin tears instigate real tears. In the final close-up, her face becomes a poem.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Cast and Credits

Sog.: Salka Viertel, Margaret LeVino. Scen.: H.M. Harwood, Salka Viertel, S.N. Behrman. F.: William Daniels. M.: Blanche Sewell. Scgf.: Alexander Toluboff. Mus.: Herbert Stothart. Int.: Greta Garbo (regina Cristina), John Gilbert (Don Antonio de la Prada), Ian Keith (conte Magnus), Lewis Stone (cancelliere Oxenstierna), Elizabeth Young (contessa Ebba), C. Aubrey Smith (Aage), Reginald Owen (Charles), Georges Renavent (ambasciatore francese), David Torrence (arcivescovo), Gustav von Seyffertitz (generale). Prod.: Walter Wanger per Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. 35mm. D.: 99’. Bn.