Everyone who’s enjoyed an Intro to Philosophy class has heard the tale of the queen who killed René Descartes.
As the story goes, Descartes was a guy who danced to his own beat, regularly sleeping in until noon and lazily inventing different forms of geometry. Then one day a queen, fascinated by some of his writings, paid to have the famous philosopher travel to Sweden, where he would teach her a great many things early in the morning. He came, she made him wake up early, it was cold, he got sick, and then he died.
When telling the story, most teachers will emphasize the waking up early part as Descartes’ primary cause of death. That or he was poisoned, but most likely it had to do with waking up early.
And the queen? Well, who cares. She was a sleep depriving torturer whose only claim to fame was the man she killed, right?
As it turns out, the answer to that question is no — not even close. In fact, Descartes is hardly a footnote in the story of this fascinating historical character, and the less you know about Kristina of Sweden, the more drawn in you’ll be to Mika Kaurismäki’s “The Girl King.”
As always, let’s chat about the highlights:
The BBC movie
If I had to give a crude overview of the movie’s presentation, I’d say this looks like an expensive BBC mini-series. This is neither here nor there when it comes to quality storytelling. In fact, tell the wrong person Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy suffered from the BBC makeover and you’ll end up staring at your still beating heart. However, if you’re expecting the gluttonous budget of a Hollywood period piece, the presentation will take some getting used to. Know what you’re getting into before the lights dim, and you’ll enjoy the film that much more.
If this film serves no other purpose than to place a spotlight on Malin Buska, it has a lot to be proud of.
Buska believes in every scene she walks through and controls the tempo of each interaction, as any respectable monarch should. In the few cases where “The Girl King” slips into melodrama, it’s during Buska’s absence, and when the story is at its most compelling, you guessed it, Buska is front and center.
I have no idea what Buska’s professional aspirations include, but there are countless projects Hollywood’s kicking around right now that would be better because of her.
On a high level, “The Girl King” is a fish-out-of-water story — only the fish happens to be ruler over the land mammals, and a highly educated one at that.
Set in the 1600’s, “The Girl King” follows Kristina of Sweden (Buska) as she succeeds her father at the age of 6 and begins her rule at 18. As Kristina questions her faith, her sexuality and her purpose as a member of the human race, she is forced to face the burdens that come with overseeing a kingdom that doesn’t entirely understand her. At its heart, this film is very much a biopic that places subject over story, and for those who love characters above all else, it will absolutely work. However, if you’re someone who demands central conflict, and a beginning, middle, and ending, well, move along to the next section.
Where its weak
To be clear, “The Girl King” does not buckle under the weight of some of its issues, but it definitely gets wobbly knees from time-to-time. One glaring problem specifically comes with the occasionally disjointed script by Michel Marc Bouchard.
Instead of focusing on a few key moments of Kristina’s life, or grounding the story with a single overarching conflict, Bouchard instead tries to capture as much of the queen’s life as possible. As a result, audiences might be confused by random set changes, or sit scratching their heads as unusually convenient resolutions unfold in order to push Kristina to another key moment in history.
Again, a few clumsy moments are hardly a knock-out punch for the story, but audiences will notice some unnatural pacing and arranged outcomes.
Audiences who love their historical dramas should definitely look to spend time with Kristina of Sweden in “The Girl King.” While a few moments suffer from uneven storytelling, the intriguing premise, timely themes and stand-out performance from Buska more than makeup for the occasionally jarring presentation. We Flix Junkies have never established a firm rating system, so let me simply call this a worthwhile, 3-out-of-4 star, 1.5 thumbs up.