The Girl King
Director: Mika Kaurismäki
Writer: Michel Marc Bouchard
Cast: Malin Buska, Sarah Gadon, Michael Nyqvist, Lucas Bryant, Laura Birn, Hippolyte Girardot, Peter Lohmeyer, François Arnaud, Patrick Bauchau, Ville Virtanen, Martina Gedeck
Part of: FrauenFilmTage
Seen on: 26.2.2016
Kristina (Malin Buska) becomes the ruler of Sweden at a young age. Her mother (Martina Gedeck) is of little help and Kristina is educated profoundly by Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna (Michael Nyqvist) to rule – as King, not as Queen. When Kristina comes of age, it’s him who raises the question of marriage and hopes that Kristina will choose his son Johan (Lucas Bryant). But Kristina is neither interested in marriage, nor in men. The only person who holds her fascination outside of the intellect is Ebba (Sarah Gadon) who she names her lady-in-waiting and with whom she grows ever closer.
The Girl King tells a fascinating story of a fascinating woman and it does so quite well. It’s not an amazingly great film, but it’s definitely good with the cast being a particular stand-out.
Kaurismäki and Bouchard decided to tell the story of a woman who doesn’t want to conform to either the patriarchy or heteronormativity but is ultimately ground down by both. She has big plans for her country, a scientific mind and infinite curiosity, but she has to argue over and over again why she doesn’t want to get married. It doesn’t come as a surprise that she decides to become celibate rather than subject herself to that for the rest of her life.
I have no idea how historically accurate that portrayal of Kristina is, and it doesn’t matter all that much. Malin Buska is certainly a joy to watch in that role, as is Sarah Gadon (who is always a joy to watch, period). The relationship between Kristina and Ebba gets off to a rocky start, especially when Kristina rather aggressively pursues Ebba. Ebba is in no position to say no to her King and so their first explicit contact is forced by Kristina. After the sexual assault, though, their relationship quickly turns romantic and nobody ever discusses the beginning.
Despite that part – that really rubbed me the wrong way – I very much enjoyed the film. Above all, it works with complicated and complex characters that give their actors much to work with (and you can see how they relish tearing into their parts). Oxenstierna, for example, obvioulsy loves Kristina dearly, but he feels his duties lie with his country more than with his affection for her, creating a conflict that Nyqvist makes very much personal even when it’s all about state affairs on the surface.
A lot happens in the film. Sometimes that is a little confusing (especially for someone like me who only has a tenuous grasp of historic events) and sometimes the pacing of the film isn’t quite right. But the film has enough coherence, great characters and beautiful cinematography to keep you very well engaged.