The Girl King, directed by Mika Kaurismäki, follows the life and reign of Kristina, Queen of Sweden from 1632 to 1654. Kristina was raised a Princess and inherited the throne at the age of six when her father died at the battle of Lützen. Thrown into the ongoing Catholic and Lutheran conflicts of the 17th century, her feelings for both sides pulled at her for the rest of her life. At the forefront for bringing new learning, philosophy and peace to Sweden, she defied gender stereotypes and eventually abdicated the throne when she refused to marry.
The film opens with a heady montage of shots, ten minutes of quick cuts to inform the viewer of the time from Kristina’s birth to her reaching adulthood. It almost rushes to get to the good bits, the topics that the director wants to address and develop. It sets a precedent for the production. There is a sense of compression, such a complex and fascinating life is fit into a series of snapshots that neatly fits the feature-length time limit. This allows only fleeting glimpses of some of the stellar performances by the cast.
Malin Buska, who plays Kristina, does her best at arresting attention from the rapid pace with some of the film’s best moments coming from her interaction with other characters. The scenes between Kristina’s mother, Martina Gedek, and her are brilliant. Martina brings a believable psychosis to the role; the countess was known to be completely out of her mind at times. Malin shows the barely repressed conflict of daughterly emotion and monarchical disdain masterfully. Throughout the film, Malin dances and twirls between the attentions of her councillor and close childhood mentor, Michael Nyqvist, and those of the French ambassador, Hippolyte Girardot. Michael and Hippolyte are constants throughout the film, and this tug of war between the Lutherans and the Catholics provides a backdrop to the emotional realisations of Kristina. We see the development of the Queen’s affection for one of her ladies in waiting, Ebba Sparre. Played by Sarah Gadon, despite sparing dialogues, she shows here revere and later love for the queen with angelic expression. The interplay between these two woman is lovely to watch, and the quiet moments between the two result in a welcome break from the break neck speed of the film.
In all, the film needs to allow the gravitas of Queen Kristina’s decisions more room to breathe. When negotiating peace with the Holy Roman Empire, the Queen decides to launch an attack on a German city despite protest from her advisors and diplomats. What should be seen as a clever decision to negotiate peace from a position of power once the city has been taken, instead comes across as a whim due to the need to fit it into 30 seconds. Yet, perhaps it is the fast nature of the film that does indeed portray the ever changing demands on the queen that present themselves daily. Hidden amongst the riding, the dancing, the visits at court, the viewer can enjoy some immersive performances.
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