The film is a fictionalised account of the life of the 17th century Swedish Queen Christina, daughter of Gustavus Adolphus, who in reality, eventually abdicated in order to lead an independent life and to change her Lutheranism for Catholicism. Garbo's Queen, by way of contrast, abdicates for love, and is an alluring mixture of masculine and feminine qualities. Learned, resolute, she is also sexually experienced, even aggressive, refuses to get married, and ignores those who try to impose gender roles on her. The movie is very much "pre-code", that brief period in the early 1930's when Hollywood movies offered a sexual sophistication which has since been rarely seen.
The movie borrows a good deal from film versions of England's Elizabeth I, and provides Greta Garbo with the perfect vehicle to dominate the screen and she certainly gives a masterly performance. The plot centers on her counsellors' demand that she marry Charles of France, which angers her and her "consort", the burly Count Magnus (Ian Keith). Fleeing the court - and the restrictions placed on her as a woman - Christina dresses like a man and encounters, by chance, the Spanish ambassador, Antonio (John Gilbert, whom Garbo was romancing at the time). What follows are erotic comic scenes of sexual disguise, as Christina begins to fall deeply in love with Antonio. When Antonio is killed protecting her honor, Christina abdicates, achieving the solitude that, because of her rank and personal qualities, seems her fate from the beginning.
As well as the brilliant performance from Greta Garbo, John Gilbert too, gives an intelligent and witty portrayal of Antonio, the Spanish envoy. Garbo insisted that Gilbert be given the role, (to the exclusion of Laurence Olivier) and she and Gilbert make a great pairing. Sadly Gilbert's career continued to slide and he died, an alcoholic, in 1936. The excellent cast includes character actors Lewis Stone and C.Aubrey Smith who play Garbo's supporters with their usual confidence.
The most famous shot in the movie is the final one with the Queen staring out to sea. All her emotions and passions are attributed to her by the audience, not by her expressionless face. (She was instructed by Mamoulian to "think of nothing.")
The beautiful and subtle cinematography helps the glamorization of the beautiful Garbo and the well thought out art design, editing, and music contribute also to making 'Queen Christina' a very good film indeed, one of the early classics of the Talkies.
Main CastGreta Garbo ... Queen Christina
John Gilbert ... Antonio
Ian Keith ... Magnus
Lewis Stone ... Oxenstierna
Elizabeth Young ... Countess Ebba Sparre
C. Aubrey Smith ... Aage
Reginald Owen ... Karl Gustav
Georges Renavent ... Chanut
David Torrence ... Archbishop
Gustav von Seyffertitz ... General
Ferdinand Munier ... Innkeeper
Akim Tamiroff ... Pedro (uncredited)
Muriel Evans ... Barmaid at Inn
Hooper Atchley ... Antonio's Companion
CreditsDirector ... Rouben Mamoulian
Producer ... Walter Wanger
Story ... Salka Viertel, Margaret P. Levino
Screenplay ... H. M. Harwood, Salka Viertel, S. N. Behrman (dialogue)
Music ... Herbert Stothart
Cinematography ... William H. Daniels
Format ... B & W
Distribution Company ... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date ... December 26, 1933
Running time ... 97 minutes