The Girl King review: queer history as preposterous bodice-ripper

Malin Buska delivers a pointedly manly performance as Sweden’s Queen Kristina in this faintly ridiculous historical drama

The Girl King
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Director: Mika Kaurismäki
Cert: Club
Genre: History
Starring: Malin Buska, Sarah Gadon, Michael Nyqvist, Lucas Bryant, Patrick Bauchau
Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins

Kristina was Queen regnant of Sweden from 1632 to 1654. She was highly educated, spoke eight languages, and enjoyed the company of such philosophical heavyweights as Descartes.

She was also a lesbian who never married and who was comfortable enough with her sexuality to introduce her lover Ebba Sparre as “her bedfellow” to the English ambassador (and real-not-made-up person) Bulstrode Whitelocke.

She deserves a better historical drama than Mika Kaurismäki's bodice-ripper. It takes a preposterous kind of movie to deliver the line: "By Christ's balls, I don't like to be kept waiting!" And The Girl King is all kinds of preposterous. It is hard to believe that the film is adapted from a play by Michel Marc Bouchard (Lillies, Tom at the Farm).

Malin Buska’s pointedly manly performance as Kristina (a role that has been previously essayed by Greta Garbo and Liv Ullmann) – all strides and swordplay – is one of those heavily stylised turns that is either genius or folly. The normally reliable Sarah Gadon mostly simpers unacceptably as Ebba. Everybody else wears ruffs and beards and chatters away about sectarian divisions across Europe.


The Girl King is seldom queer enough, but you couldn't say it isn't plenty camp.

The shallow staging can resemble an archly presented diptych by Peter Greenway or one of Ken Russell’s crazier ones. More often, it looks like budgetary constraints, Euro-pudding and poor decision-making.

Kristina's final abdication and conversion to Catholicism is presented as an ideological switcheroo, of the kind described in Slavoj Zizek's The Pervert's Guide to Ideology. As with the film's entertainment value, this may be accidental.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic