There is no doubt that Queen Christina of Sweden is a fascinating historical character. Brilliant, androgynous, and very likely queer, the young queen rose to power after the death of her father, King Gustav. A mere child, she was taken away from her mother (who was notably insane and lived with her husband’s corpse for over a year) and raised by the Chancellor and scholars, taught multiple languages and fighting skills. At age 16, she became the official queen of Sweden.
The new film The Girl King follows Christina’s life from her early years, and focuses mainly on the time following her coronation. Christina (played by relative newcomer Malin Buska) surprises her entirely male group of advisers by turning out to be much more independently minded than they expected. A Protestant country, Sweden had been embroiled in the Thirty Years’ War, a fight between Protestant and Catholic countries, which devastated much of Europe. One of Christina’s first acts was to bring peace and an end to the conflict, a decree that infuriated the Swedish army commanders. Christina also finds herself drawn to Catholicism, and philosophers like Descartes.
After growing up being told what to think and how to act, Christina finds it impossible to follow anyone’s rules once she takes the throne. She wears men’s clothing, and runs around sword fighting and riding horses. She also finds herself drawn to the fiancé of one of her noblemen, Countess Ebba Sparre (an enchanting Sarah Gadon). For Christina, it’s love at first sight and Ebba becomes one of her ladies in waiting, and royal “bed-fellow.”
The film focuses on this romance, and the chemistry between the two women is spot on. Christina is lovesick over Ebba, and it’s clear that Ebbe loves Christina back as fiercely. However, the relationship can never be equal. The two exchange a few kisses, and there is a passionate (but all too brief) love scene that is interrupted by one of Christina’s male suitors.
Love and duty were often at odds for Christina. As you can imagine or if you’ve read anything about her, (spoiler alert!) this love story does not have the happiest of endings. A brokenhearted Christina refuses to marry one of her male suitors, instead appointing her cousin as her male heir by way of adoption.
The Girl King is beautiful to look at with lush and appropriate period costumes, yet something feels a bit off. It was hard to put my finger on it, but I think it has to do with the way the film was shot. It feels much more like watching a television movie than a feature film. As Christina, Malin Buska takes some warming up to. Stunning, her face is often a blank slate, and her line delivery is a bit monotonic. She becomes more approachable once Ebba comes on to the scene, which could have to do with the fact that Sarah Gadon brings a lot of complexity to her supporting role. Malin is still fairly new, and I’m sure she will grow stronger with more experience. She does however manage to command your attention in the latter part of the film.
Anytime we get to see a story about queer women in history is a good thing, and The Girl King is certainly an interesting look at this enigmatic ruler. While I wish it could have been a bit stronger in its delivery, it’s still a very watchable film.
The Girl King is distributed in the U.S. though Wolfe Releasing and will be available on DVD, VOD and in select theaters this December.