Queen Christina Rides Again

Kathleen Byron (Sister Ruth!), left.

Anthony Harvey is best known for his James Goldman adaptations, THE LION IN WINTER and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS. Both are strong texts with excellent casts, but never felt very filmic to me. Harvey, a former editor, achieved some neat cutting effects but the feeling of “filmed play”, or even “televized play”, hung over the proceedings. I still like them, though.

DUTCHMAN, his first movie, is eminently theatrical but incredibly, electrifyingly powerful in what has to be called a “cinematic” way at the same time, despite being confined entirely to a single subway train carriage. More on that here.

THE ABDICATION, lavishly staged in Italy and shot by Geoffrey Unsworth (2001, CABARET, TESS) takes a play by Ruth Wolff that’s virtually a two-hander, and explodes it with grandiose settings, expressive, almost flashy editing, flashbacks, and a lush Nino Rota score. It could have been overpowering, but I think it achieves a kind of balance.

It’s the story of Queen Christina (“the great Svenska dyke,” as Peter O’Toole put it) after her abdication, as she attempts to convince a cardinal (Peter Finch) that her conversion to Catholicism is sincere. This turns into a sort of psychotherapy session during which she falls in love with her interrogator, tipping her hand with the gift of an inappropriate porn goblet ~

Liv actually seems to be having fun with the material, and the literate script delivers both snappy, rhythmic exchanges of the kind that can feel too artificial onscreen if you’re not careful, and more languid speeches that let things breathe. When Liv has a breakdown in flashback, pressing herself against a wall in terror, we’re close to Bergman terrain, but the style, all widescreen, fog filters, golden lens flare and surging montage, is the very opposite.

Here, Unsworth’s vaseline smears convert the sun’s rays to a weird gold slash, rather unlike anything found in nature — a striking effect, for sure. The movie is almost TOO beautiful, and anybody who has a resistance to David Lean type grandeur would probably find it hard to take. We rather loved it.

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7 Responses to “Queen Christina Rides Again”

  1. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like an inappropriate porn goblet.

  2. A deeply strange movie. But not as deeply strange as Lost Horizon — Ross Hunter’s musical remake with songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, direction by Charles Jarrot and a screenplay by

    (wait for it)

    Larry Kramer.

    Queen Christina was Garbo’s personal favorite of all her films. I well remember her coming to a showing at the Baronet/Cornet theaters in New York back in the day when I was an usher.

    She was her greatest fan.

  3. I always liked that line in Blake Edwards’ S*O*B: “Liv Ullman? Are you SURE???”

    She has had a very strange Hollywood career. And nobody would see her as a Garbo substitute, but fortunately that’s not required in this film. I’ve seen her interviewed on stage in Edinburgh and she’s great fun.

  4. Never could stand Liv Ullmann, I must admit, unless she was being terrorised by Mamma Ingrid in Autumn Sonata…but I’m still dying to see this film!

  5. I would defy anybody to say that she wasn’t perky and energetic in this film. Which is more like the real Liv, a rather giggly, sexy person.

  6. Never was much into Bergman films, except, perhaps his Magic Flute which had it’s camp charms. But I have enjoyed a few of Liv’s performances in English language films, not that I can pull the names up readily (not a particularly good recommendation, there, I guess). I was wondering if any of you have seen her attempts at direction?

    I heard her speak at the presentation of her second full length film, Kristin Lavransdatter, that was based on a medieval themed young adult romance novel. I haven’t seen the film in over fifteen years, but I still cringe at the memory. Long, draggy, and full of some of the most unlikely costuming choices I’d ever seen.

  7. That’s a shame. I gather she’s become rather good, and she had plenty of Bergman scripts to work with. She also seems to have been a good influence on him, being one of the few people who could tell him when he was being silly.

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