Last spring, I blogged about the exhibition of movie costumes for ”The Girl King” (Tyttökuningas), a movie about Queen Kristina (1626 – 1689) by Mika Kaurismäki. Now that I’ve actually seen the film, I thought I’d write a few words about it. You can also read my husband's review over at Wolfwood's Corner.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always been interested in the 17th century, mostly because, growing up, I was an avid fan of The Three Musketeers. Queen Kristina, in turn, is a fascinating historical figure: a queen of Sweden who was brought up as a prince (her hobbies included hunting and swordplay). She was fiercely intelligent, interested in arts and philosophy and led an unconventional life - sexually, politically, etc: her short reign ended when she abdicated her throne and converted into Catholicism (catholics were her father’s old enemies, so to speak). I entered the theater hoping to see a swashbucklerish historical adventure with a bit of romance (pretty much my favourite type of movie... even better if you can throw in literature/books there somewhere).
Did I get what I wanted? Let’s see.
Mostly yes. I’d say the attention to historical detail – setting, costumes, props – was fantastic, considering that this was a (mostly) Finnish film (”mostly”, because it’s actually a Finnish-Swedish-German-French-Canadian collaboration) and thus the budget must be about a fraction of Hollywood blockbusters. The swords received some criticism from my DH, but other than that, things looked great. I particularly admired the lush and luminous costumes, which, to me, seemed authentic enough, apart from a couple of exceptions. (For a more detailed analysis of the costumes, I recommend this article by Frock Flicks.) Other limitations of the budget showed in Turku doubling as Stockholm (I recognised many of the locations, including castle rooms, and kept forgetting we were not supposed to be in Turku) and in less than impressive crowd scenes (for example, the queen’s coronation feast). But these were minor details and did not bother me.
Since the film was about Kristina (Malin Buska), she was clearly the main character. It’s a nice introduction to someone who knows nothing or very little about her, but those wishing to learn more might be a little disappointed. I’d have loved to see more about Kristina as an actual ruler – making decisions concerning her kingdom, struggling with challenges that a young woman inheriting the throne inevitably must have faced (yes, they went on and on about her need to marry, and that must have been a big concern, but surely there were others?). In addition, the end, her decision to give up her throne, remained a little... under explored? However, Kristina was and remains an enigmatic figure; much of what we ”know” about her is pure speculation, guesswork, rumours... and thus a film can only be an interpretation and cannot possibly explain everything.
Disappointingly little. Kristina did wear her sword in several scenes, but there was (as I recall) but one where she actually used it. Very little fencing was demonstrated by other characters as well. Then again, it was a court setting; people could hardly be swashbuckling their way around the castle.
Very litte. Mostly just court intrigue. But there was a murder plot or two! However, if, like me, you’d find a 17th century autopsy to demonstrate the location of the pineal gland and theories about its function fascinating, then, well, you’re in for a treat.
Plenty. As I mentioned already, I’d have loved to see more about Kristina as a queen. But rather than her as a ruler, the movie focused on her love life – her persistence on solving the mystery of love (interesting, and nicely connected to not only her love life but her relationship with her parents), the demands made on her to marry and her love affair with her lady-in-waiting, Countess Ebba Sparre (Sarah Gadon). Well. I love a good love story, and I love the relationship stuff, and there definitely was plenty of it here. I particularly loved the fact that even though it was the good old ”even a queen (or particularly a queen) can’t have whomever she wants” theme, the romance was shown to be not only passionate but also very sweet.
And a bonus!
Books and literature!!! Kristina was a very well educated woman with a thirst for knowledge, and, it seems, a fervent book collector! There was some philosophising (always a nice thing in a movie), letter writing scenes with quills and ink bottles (oooooh, sexy!) and huge, huge piles of beautiful manuscripts! When you’re a queen, you can fill your castle with books... and have sex on top of the Codex Gigas (the Devil’s Bible). Sigh. Life is so unfair.
Overall? I had no idea what to truly expect from this movie. I sincerely hoped it would be good – one of my favourite periods; a controversial, sword wielding queen; my favourite genre... I’m happy to say that despite a few flaws, some scenes that seemed irrelevant to the plot and a couple of clumsy(/-ily delivered) lines of dialogue, I found the movie very entertaining (almost forgot to eat all my chocolate!).