Who better to play a Swedish queen than the Swedish queen of cinema herself, Greta Garbo? Christina is crowned Queen of Sweden at the ripe old age of five after her father is killed in battle. As she grows up, she loves her country so much that she turns down romantic relationships so she can dedicate herself to being the best ruler she can be. But sometimes, the pressures of being a ruler get to be too much for Christina and she likes to get away. She dresses in men’s clothing and sneaks out-of-town. While she’s out, she meets the Spanish envoy, Antonio (John Gilbert), who has gotten stuck in a snowdrift. She helps him out and she runs into him again that night when they check into the same inn. But since the inn is so crowded because of the snow, Antonio has to room with Christina. He doesn’t realize that she’s really a woman until that night. But when he finds out, he’s very attracted to her.
Christina and Antonio spend a few blissful days at the inn snowed in, but Antonio still doesn’t know that she’s the Queen. He remains clueless until he arrives at the palace to present his embassy to the Queen. When one of the Queen’s suitors realizes that Christina prefers Antonio to him, he tells the public that the Queen is in love with a Spaniard. Everyone gets all riled up about it and Christina decides that she wants to be a regular person. She wants to live life on her own terms and be free to love whomever she pleases. She abdicates the throne and decides to go to Spain with Antonio. Unfortunately, just before he was to leave for Spain, Antonio is fatally wounded in a duel and dies in Christina’s arms.
Queen Christina is one of the most unconventional women in the pre-code era. First of all, there’s the fact that the real Queen Christina liked both men and women, that wasn’t something made up for the sake of having a more scandalous movie. Even though she ultimately falls in love with John Gilbert’s character in the movie, we also see her kiss her lady in waiting. Queen Christina was also famous for behaving in a very masculine way. She preferred wearing pants and had no desire to get married or have children. The real Queen Christina abdicated the throne to be able to be an openly practicing Catholic, though, not for love like in the movie.
Christina isn’t the only remarkably pre-code woman in the movie. Christina’s lady in waiting, Ebba, also likes men and women and is having an affair with Christina as well as a man. When Christina and Antonio are at the inn for the first night, Elsa helps them settle in and openly flirts with Christina. When Antonio asks her if she’s a good girl, she replies, “Only when I don’t like someone.” Such a true pre-code line! Queen Christina is also one of the few movies I’ve ever seen where the idea of a woman having lots of lovers is actually celebrated. When Christina and Antonio are at the inn, they witness a couple of guys get into a fight over whether the Queen has had six or nine lovers. The guy who insisted it was nine thought it was insulting to suggest the Queen had a mere six lovers in one year. When Christina declares that they’re both wrong, the correct answer is twelve, the whole bar erupts in cheers!
Queen Christina is one of my favorite Garbo talkies. What made Garbo such a perfect actress for silent films is that she could say so much using only her face, words were completely unnecessary. The great thing about Queen Christina is that she gets two exquisite, very famous scenes where all she does is emote. We also get one last chance to see her work with her greatest co-star, John Gilbert. Again, we see here that his voice and his acting were not the disaster that popular legend might lead you to expect. Queen Christina took the best elements of Garbo’s silent films and reinvented them for sound. Garbo and Gilbert still made a great team and Garbo never lost her ability to use her face to tell stories once she started making talkies. None of the magic had been lost.