The Girl King arrives with a certain amount of baggage due to its connection to a classic of cinematic history.
Queen Christina, directed in 1933, has already told the story of the lesbian queen, and due to the presence of Greta Garbo has gone on to become one of the most lauded films of the 1930s. This would require viewers to go in with two mantras in order to be able to perhaps enjoy this new feature: Mika Kaurismäki is not Rouben Mamoulian (nor is he his more talented brother Aki Kaurismaki) and Malin Buska is not Garbo. These two realizations should allow the film itself, separate from any paratext, to shine through.
There is certainly some shine. The scenes look quite good, owing to the collaborative work between famed Canadian director of photography Guy Dufaux and Finnish costume designer Marjatta Nissinen. Meanwhile, Sarah Gadon once again shows exactly why she is one of the most exciting Canadian actors working today in her role as Christina’s love interest. Most importantly of all, this film – with its several decades of advances in identity politics – does a better job of dealing with Christina’s sexual identity and the treatment of women in pre-feminism societies.
Unfortunately, that is where the praise for The Girl King has to end. The rest of the film is so paint-by-numbers that it will either be completely ignored, or seen and immediately forgotten.
Despite the beautiful imagery, the narrative reads like a half-baked period piece, further hindered by the horrendous musical score, frequently bordering on parodic. The biggest flaw in the film, however, is Malin Buska in the titular role. Lacking any screen presence, her performance is a mixture of an accent that sounds like no Scandinavian accent in existence and a line reading that suggests that she lost her reading glasses. She does show the occasional moment of brilliance, which leads one to believe that perhaps she is just uncomfortable with the dialect.
Unfortunately, the mistakes make this promising update of Queen Christina’s story into yet another film which will occupy a movie theatre for a fleeting moment.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam