Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki’s The Girl King gives a modern rendering of Queen Kristina’s unorthodox sexual appetites and socio-political vision for Sweden in the middle of the 17th century. The natural body and the body politic collide as the young Queen goes counter-current and attempts to bring educational reforms while trying to end the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants. Weaved into this narrative of power and knowledge is the passionate love story between Queen Kristina and her lady in waiting, Countess Ebba Sparre.
It’s not the first time cinema has portrayed this extraordinary monarch. Remember the 1993 Queen Christina by Rouben Mamoulian starring the beautiful and Sweedish-born Greta Garbo? That was a pre-Code Hollywood biographical feature, and given the time-period in which it was produced, it’s no surprise that much of her lesbian sexuality and her fierce political vision were censured. Thankfully, Kaurismäki brings back some historic authenticity by showing, not hinting at, the Queen’s sexual preference. She can be read as a queer icon, a proto-feminist, an intellectual and a visionary but what the film fails to convey is a sense of narrative coherence in regard to her burgeoning sexuality and her slow conversion to Catholicism.
The co-production between Finland, Sweden, Canada and Germany fails to fully express the love that develops between the Queen (played by Swedish actress Malin Buska) and her Countess (played by Sarah Gadon). In fact, in what should have been one of the sexiest scenes between the two women, when they are about to have a passionate embrace while contemplating a medieval manuscript called Devil’s Bible, they are abruptly interrupted and the passion is not prolonged or putt off in order to create tension, it is stopped, decapitated before even budding to life. In fact, much of the movie feels rushed and precipitated. In some instances, this makes sense: the Queen is portrayed as reckless and impulsive. However, the movie also suffers from lack of nuance and subtlety, two elements that I am personally attracted to.
Don’t let that deter you from going to see it, however. The drama is intense and provocative, and the story is one that resonates to our own heritage. Elizabeth I was also a strong woman monarch who reigned at a time when women, Queens in particular, were expected to marry and produce an heir. While Elizabeth I was not a lesbian, she too is remembered as a bachelor queen. View the trailer below: