Year of Release: 2015 Directed by Mika Kaurismäki. Starring Malin Buska, Sarah Gadon, Michael Nyqvist, Lucas Bryant, and Patrick Bauchau.
The life of Queen Kristina of Sweden is a fascinating enough topic to make several different films. Mika Kaurismäki’s The Girl King successfully limits its scope to two aspects of her life, but at the same time it seems to be torn between which of the two is the focus of the story. The film is framed by scenes which underscore Kristina’s affinity for the Catholic faith to the dismay of the Lutheran Swedish court, but the majority of the middle of the film is much more interested in her illicit lesbian affair with one of her ladies in waiting.
To the film’s credit it merges those two aspects of Kristina’s life more successfully than one might expect by emphasizing Kristina’s “curious” nature which leads her to be dissatisfied with Luther’s strict theology and interested in fulfilling her unorthodox desires. However, the double meaning of curious (for knowledge and regarding sexuality) becomes laboriously overstated and repetitive as the members of Kristina’s court and the French (read: Catholic) ambassadors say, “The queen is curious,” whenever she expresses interest in something outside of accepted norms. In other words, the word is used to the point of exhaustion.
I actually think the idea of a lesbian affair leading someone to become Catholic is fascinating, and it emphasizes the main mission of the Church: to meet all sinners where they are and bring them into the fullness of truth. Here, yet again, I found the film’s handling of the idea to be more interesting in theory than in execution. The French ambassador, eager to strike a blow against Lutheranism, tells Kristina that becoming Catholic would enable her to continue fulfilling her lesbian desires (in the seventeenth century, I seriously doubt anyone of any faith would say that). Rene Descartes (Kristina’s favorite philosopher) then says that those desires are not Christian, but further exploring the implication of those lines seems to be outside the film’s interest.
I am aware that for everything that I’ve complimented I have then criticized it, which might be making the film sound worse than it is. Director Mika Kaurismäki keeps the film thoroughly watchable through his skilled framing which gives a sense of the austere nature of the Swedish court as well as Kristina’s thirst for knowledge. An early shot of the young queen being given a physical examination in front of the entire court of men clearly establishes the sexism and secondary role of women which Kristina will challenge. The set design also convincingly portrays seventeenth century Sweden both in the palace interior and winter countryside.
However, I once again am going to turn around and critique the film. As skillful as the camera work is, the script is weak, with lines of dialogue either painfully on the nose or clichéd ideas from freshman philosophy. It does not help that some of the delivery is very stilted, but that may be because I watched the English version instead of the Swedish version, and it seemed that English was not a first language for a couple of the actors, notably Malin Buska who plays Kristina.
The Girl King is not a bad film. It’s a fascinating one in which it’s easy to see the makings of a great film from the story of Queen Kristina, a legacy this film touches upon, but does not live up to.
Content Advisory: Brief nudity, depiction of a lesbian affair, a threat of rape, an off-screen abortion, medical bloodletting and surgery — nothing particularly graphic.
Suggested Audience: Adults
Personal Recommendation: C+