Released in 1933, “Queen Christina” was one of the most progressive films of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Starring Greta Garbo as the titular Swedish monarch, this pre-Code drama depicted a sexually fluid royal who refused to conform to rigid gender roles – an incredibly bold portrayal for the time.
As we revisit this iconic film on its 90th anniversary, its themes feel startlingly relevant. While the queer undertones were largely coded for 1930s audiences, “Queen Christina” deserves recognition for Garbo’s groundbreaking performance, its lavish design, and its lasting impact as a queer cultural touchstone.
Garbo’s Legendary Lead Performance
Set in 17th century Sweden, “Queen Christina” traces the latter years in the reign of the headstrong monarch. Played by Garbo, Christina bucks expectations for queens by donning men’s clothing, prioritizing her intellectual curiosity, and refusing to marry despite pressure from advisors.
After escaping the palace dressed as a man, Christina meets and falls for Antonio (John Gilbert), a Spanish diplomat. Their chemistry culminates in an iconic kiss, but Antonio struggles to understand Christina’s disinterest in domesticity. She values their spiritual bond above all, proclaiming, “I am not like other women. I have a restless soul that demands action.”
Rather than settle down, Christina opts to abdicate her throne and pursue personal freedom, leaving Sweden dressed as a man. While the film’s resolution within Hollywood codes of the era leaves certain provocative themes unfulfilled, Garbo’s performance humanizes Christina’s complexity. Her fluid sexuality and disregard for gender roles were practically revolutionary in the 1930s.
Stunning Technical Craftsmanship
On a technical level, “Queen Christina” remains a marvel of its time. William Daniels’ luminous cinematography accentuates Garbo’s magnetism using intricate lighting and soft focus. The lavish set design, costumes and props transport us into 17th century royal opulence through meticulous period details.
Herbert Stothart’s haunting, emotive score also amplifies the emotional tenor of scenes – from languid harpsichord melodies to rousing brass fanfares. The music excavates the internal longings of these characters.
Pushing Boundaries On and Off Screen
Beneath the surface, “Queen Christina” suggests gender and sexuality exist along a spectrum, emphasizing the humanity of those who refuse societal norms. While conveyed through hints due to censorship, Garbo’s Christina emerged as a defiant queer figure.
Beyond the screen, Garbo’s stand against studio interference allowed the film’s boundary-pushing perspective to come to fruition. Her insistence on portraying Christina’s motivations with nuance paved the way for more complex queer representation.
Enduring Legacy as a Cinematic Landmark
“Queen Christina” proved one of the finest dramas of the 1930s and a career-defining role for Garbo. The film provided a glimpse into shifting sexual politics in Hollywood, coming just before strengthened censorship. Audiences picked up on its subtext, making the movie a major critical and commercial success.
Though certain aspects feel dated, at its core “Queen Christina” bears an affirming message – that living freely matters more than societal demands. Greta Garbo’s sensitive portrayal remains a testament to artistic integrity and rejection of compromise. The movie endures as a touchstone that pushed boundaries, heralding more open queer representation.
Queen Christina finally gets special features via Warner Archive
Queen Christina comes with a 1956 episode of MGM Parade that focused on Garbo’s career at MGM. You also get a trailer to round out the special features. I know that films of a certain era are hard to get special features, but any effort made is to be applauded. What else did Warner Archive bring to Queen Christina?
The A/V Quality is rather strong for a film from the early 1930s. Given the sheer volume of effort undertaken to save films from far recent eras, any effort to restore films from the early Sound Era is superb. The DTS-HD 2.0 mono track is robust and supports the 1080p transfer in creating a stellar presentation.