The queen of Sweden gives up throne, wealth, and power for love and personal freedom. [Dir: Rouben Mamoulian/ Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Ian Keith/ 100 min/ Drama, Romance/ Individualism & Independence, Anti-War]
“… One must live for one’s self. After all, Chancellor, one’s life is all one has.” So says Queen Christina in following chosen love over inherited duty. Most of this film is about her coming to that final, dramatic resolution.
As the story begins, Sweden has just triumphed in a long, bloody war over a multitude of enemies. Flush with the glory of war, parliament wants more of it. Instead, Queen Christina argues for peace. But her attitude is out of step with popular opinion. When she subsequently meets and falls in love with a foreigner, a Spanish emissary, the people revolt, with some encouragement from divisive elements in parliament. Queen Christina faces down the revolt with characteristic courage, but it makes her realize that she must finally decide the unavoidable question: should she fulfill the wishes of the people and of parliament and wed out of duty to the state, or should she follow her own heart? Her answer is unequivocal: “There is a freedom which is mine and which the state cannot take away. To the unreasonable tyranny of the mob … I shall not submit. Know this all of you!”
This film not only has an anti-self-sacrifice message but also an antiwar, pro-tolerance one: Made in 1934, as Europe prepared for yet another carnage, it lionizes a queen who not only turns down a war hero in favor of a foreigner, but who demonstrates a distinctly anti-xenophobic attitude in other ways as well. It’s a message Germany could have used at the time.
This is generally regarded as one of the all-time great films, but that rating seems mostly a tribute to the captivating Greta Garbo. Her unusual combination of beauty, sonorous voice, and confident air made her uniquely suited for a regal dramatic role. Moreover, Garbo had just the right mix of the masculine and feminine to pull off the gender-bending character of Queen Christina. But in other respects this is just a good film, not one of the best ever. It’s particularly popular among Ayn Rand fans.