The Girl King (2015) is a biographical drama following Christina, Queen of Sweden (Malin Buska) dudring her ten year reign. In those ten years she advocates reforms in Swedish education and infrastructure, loots Prague, plays host to René Descartes (Patrick Bauchau) and has a passionate affair with Ebba Spare (Sarah Godon). Director Mika Kaurismäki focuses primarily on the tolls ruling takes on Queen Christina’s personal life, particularly her verboten relationship with Ebba Spare.
This focus is what gives The Girl King most of its value. The film’s treatment of the duality in Queen Christina’s personality and identity, between monarch and woman, articulates a truth that continues to plague society now. Queen Christina’s uphill battle against patriarchal oppression in the guises of both state and religion makes for a dramatic and relevant narrative. The problem is that Mika Kaurismäki is a bit too brusque in scenes that illuminate the intricacies of Sweden’s political machinery in the 17th century. With a little more context, the stakes would more easily and thoroughly be understood.
The Girl King is one of the films made in the last decade that have endeavored to show positively women’s contribution to history. Within this milieu is a sort of sub genre of films that deal with queer women. If one compares The Girl King to Tipping The Velvet (2002) there’s an obvious progression being made away from what could best be described as a more pervasive masculine gaze. Mika Kaurismäki makes less of the female body during love scenes than many of his counterparts for sure, but he is still a man making a film about queer women.
This situation may not be ideal in a politically progressive sense, but in terms of cinematic history it does present some points of interest. Mika Kaurismäki has a tendency to author images in The Girl King of Malin Buska riding her horse through snowy woods in slow motion that recalls similar motifs in the erotic horror films of Jean Rollin. Intentionally or not, Queen Christina, a sexually dominating presence to be sure, is equated with Franca Maï in Rollins’ Fascination (1979). Then there is of course the scene in The Girl King where Queen Christina and Ebba Spare make love atop “the Devil’s Bible” which recalls any number of Euro-horror exploitation films from the sixties and seventies. This creates a paradox of a kind where The Girl King is at once progressive while simultaneously paying homage to the tradition of lesbian iconography in modern European cinema.
Despite the political merits or the cinematic points of interest The Girl King isn’t nearly as good as it could have been. It’s Malin Buska who carries this film with a tremendously magnetic performance. If not for Buska’s sincerity, vulnerability and charisma as an actor The Girl King would have ventured into the realm of unintentionally campy farce. I recommend this as a double feature with Queen Christina (1933).