Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Directed by: Mika Kaurismäki
Starring: Malin Buska, Sarah Gadon, Michael Nyqvist
Queen Kristina of Sweden is a fascinating figure in a number of ways. Her reign around the middle of the 17th Century took in a time of great religious turmoil across Europe as Protestantism gained ground at the expense of Catholicism. Kristina herself, raised in the manner of a male prince, obsessed with knowledge and the arts, and uncertain of her own religious beliefs, was a complex ruler. Very little of this comes across in The Girl King, a routine period drama that seems much more interested in spinning a bodice ripping yarn around her sexuality.
That’s not to say the topic isn’t of interest. Kristina (Malin Buska) never married and may have formed a close relationship with one of her ladies in waiting. Mika Kaurismäki’s film is interested in the relationship much more than Kristina, and even then only for the odd snatched kiss and interrupted sex scene. The wider world around her, full of court intrigue, religious war and her love of knowledge, comes a clear second.
At least it looks the part. Costumes are suitably rich and the sets have an authentic ring to them. A steady, if predictable, score booms out on cue, giving a nice gloss that does unfortunately bulldoze over the subtler moments. The same goes for the performances. Buska is acceptable in the lead, sometimes underplaying too much but just about managing to come across regal and smitten when required. There’s steady support from Sarah Gadon as Countess Ebba Sparre, her forbidden love interest, and Michael Nyqvist as Chancellor Oxenstierna who treats her like a daughter but comes with his own agenda. Others fare less well. During one low point, Buska shows too little emotion arguing with Martina Gedeck who goes completely overboard as her deranged mother.The scenes between Buska and Gadon are The Girl King’s strongest. Despite dumbing it down to a mannered romance, there’s genuine chemistry between them, overcoming sedate staging. As their love becomes increasingly impossible, the narrative starts to rush towards its conclusion, moving pieces around to find Kristina an heir, extricate her from potential marriages that hold no interest, and advance her growing religious doubts. There’s the occasional philosophical waffle thrown in, particularly when Descartes (Patrick Bauchau) arrives in town, but it’s not given any more weighting than a cheap reveal over who pushed the Queen down the stairs when she was younger.
The Girl King is a steady, dependable period romance that ticks along nicely enough. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get close to doing its subject justice, making matters worse by flirting with many of the interesting elements of her life only to discard them. It leaves a flat and occasionally contrived experience that fails to make the most of the material at hand.