Cast: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Ian Keith, Lewis Stone, Elizabeth Young
SUMMARY: At the age of six, Christina (Greta Garbo), the princess of Sweden and the King’s only heir, ascends to the throne. Some twenty years later, she is an adult, and a very popular monarch. Sweden is still embroiled in the Thirty Years’ War, which they were fighting when she became Queen (her father was killed in the fighting), and Christina wants to end things. She meets the resistance of most of her council, particularly her cousin Karl Gustav, a war hero and presumably, Christina’s future husband. The nobles are getting increasingly anxious about having an heir to the throne, and consider Karl Gustav to be the best option. However, Christina has very little interest in marrying her cousin. To escape the pressure one day, Christina dons male riding cothes and goes out with her valet. Far away from the castle, they come across the Spanish ambassador and his entourage, who are on their way to the Swedish court. The ambassador, Antonio (John Gilbert), does not recognize the Queen, or even realize that she is a woman, and even pays her for her assistance in dislodging his stuck carriage. Christina and her valet leave, and decide to spend the night at an inn, where they rent the last rom, and the most luxurious. Only a short while later, Antonio and his men arrive, having decided to spend the night at the same inn. When they learn that there are no more rooms available, the owner suggests that Antonio simply share the room (and the bed) with the young man who just rented it (Christina). Christina tries to get out of the situation by simply giving the room to Antonio, saying that she will sleep by the fire, but Antonio refuses to let this happen; finally, Christina agrees to share.
That evening, Antonio is shocked to find that his new friend is really a woman. However, the friendship quickly turns deeper, and when a snowstorm strands them at the inn for a few days, Christina and Antonio fall in love. When the snow finally clears, Antonio has to head for the castle, but wants to see Christina again; she promises him that they will see each other in Stockholm. Christina beats Antonio back to the castle, and when he is presented to the court, with his full entourage, he is both shocked and angry to find that the woman he fell in love with is actually the Queen of Sweden. He is angry because he has been sent by the King of Spain to offer a marriage proposal to Christina, and as a loyal servant of the King, he considers his own feelings for Christina to be disloyal. However, Christina flatly refuses to marry the King of Spain, and she and Antonio are able to spend the rest of his visit together. Unfortunately, a member of Christina’s court, Count Magnus (Ian Keith), also wants to marry her. He decides to stop her from marrying Antonio by turning the Swedish people against him, so that Antonio will be thrown out of the country, and never have the public support to become King (or consort, or whatever). Magnus begins stirring up the people with lies about Antonio and his intentions for Christina, and the Swedish people do turn against him. They even stop a carriage that Antonio and Christina are riding in, and only let them go after Christina makes a personal plea. With the people so against a union with Spain, and the court against it as well, Christina decides to abdicate in order to marry Antonio. The court begs her to reconsider, but she goes through with her plan, naming her cousin Karl Gustav as her successor. She then quickly boards a ship that will take her to Antonio, who has already left, only to find that he is fatally wounded. After a confrontation with Magnus, Antonio and the Count engaged in a duel, which Magnus won. His men have brought Antonio back to the ship, but he is dying. He is able to see Christina and talks to her briefly, before dying in her arms. Instead of remaining in Sweden, Christina decides to head to Spain as planned, and live in Antonio’s home he had told her so much about.
MY TAKE: I haven’t seen a ton of Garbo films, but I think this is a pretty typical one: it’s a tragic love story. It’s dramatic and entertaining, but somebody croaks at the end. This time, it’s not Garbo, it’s four-time costar John Gilbert, but it still sucks. The movie is loosely based on the true story of the real Queen Christina of Spain. “Loosely” is the key word here, as the whole Antonio thing was fabricated. In reality, most of the reason Christina abdicated was so that she wouldn’t be forced to marry, and so that she could convert to Catholicism (which she would probably have done in the movie if she really did marry Antonio, most of Spain being Catholic). You can tell it’s a pre-Code movie because of the scene at the inn, where it’s made very clear that an unmarried man and woman spend the night in the same bed — and continue to do so for several days. That would never have flown under the Code. It’s not a bad film, because it’s got Garbo in it, but it wasn’t knock-your-socks-off. It didn’t get any Oscar nominations, which doesn’t always mean something, but in this case seems appropriate. The thing that stuck out the most to me was that Garbo laughs in this movie. You may remember that another of her movies, Ninotchka, was famously billed with the line, “Garbo Laughs!” like it was a big thing. This movie came out six years before that one, and proves that Garbo really did laugh in more than one movie. However, this is definitely not a comedy, as that movie is. Nobody dies in that one, either.