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As depicted in the film and confirmed by modern biographical sources, from 1632, when she was crowned queen of Sweden at the age of six, to 1644, Christina ruled under the regency of five crown officers, headed by Axel Oxenstierna. When she obtained her majority, Christina began to oppose Oxenstierna, especially in regard to Sweden's participation in the Thirty Years' War. Although she was responsible for engineering a peace settlement with Germany, she failed to overcome the financial problems brought on by years of war and was plagued by attempted revolts and dissension in the Swedish Diet. As depicted in the film, Christina, who was known as the "Minerva of the North," was an avid reader and supporter of the arts. Descartes taught her philosophy. In 1654, Christina abdicated to her cousin Charles. Although she cited poor health as her reason for stepping down, her real motivation was her secret conversion to Roman Catholicism, which had been outlawed in Sweden, and her aversion to marriage. Immediately after abdicating, Christina left Sweden and years later attempted to gain the thrones of Naples and Poland. She never married.
The working title of the film was Christina. News items in Motion Picture Daily, Hollywood Reporter and Film Daily give the following information about the film's production: In August 1932, Clarence Brown was announced as the film's director, and Bess Meredyth was announced as adaptor. While Brown never worked as director on the production, it is not known if Meredyth actually contributed to the final script. A January 1933 Film Daily news item stated that M-G-M was going to send a production unit to Sweden to make the film. No other indications that any scenes were made on location have been found, however. In the spring of 1933, Motion Picture Daily reported that Ernst Lubitsch would not be directing the picture. Around the same time, a large number of actors, including Bruce Cabot, were tested for the role of "Antonio." After months of delay, Laurence Olivier was selected for the lead, and in July 1933, the actor sailed from Britain to play the part. (Modern sources state that Franchot Tone and Nils Asther, who had co-starred with Garbo in several silent pictures, were also considered for the role.) However, in mid-August 1933, John Gilbert was awarded the part over Olivier. M-G-M reportedly compensated Olivier with a generous cash settlement. Although C. Henry Gordon was announced as a "featured" cast member, the actor did not appear in the final film. Edward Cooper is mentioned in a Hollywood Reporter news item as a cast member, and the following actors are listed in Hollywood Reporter production charts: Edward Gargan, Tiny Sandford and Muriel Evans. Lawrence Grant is described in news items as playing the only "English" role in the film, but this role has not been identified. A Film Daily news item indicates that the final scenes for the production were not completed until mid-December 1933, but Hollywood Reporter production charts and news items list the end of production as late October 1933. Queen Christina was the first and only sound film that Garbo made with Gilbert, her most famous silent film co-star. Its release came eighteen months after her previous starring vehicle, As You Desire Me.
Modern sources add the following information about the production: Just before Garbo was to sail to Stockholm on a vacation, writer Salka Viertel gave her a biography of Christina and suggested that she consider the queen as her next film role. Garbo liked the idea and, with Viertel, met with M-G-M's Irving Thalberg. Viertel and a collaborator prepared a treatment and sent it to Garbo in Sweden for approval. Excited by the story, Garbo notified Thalberg that she would re-sign with his studio if he agreed to make Queen Christina as her next starring picture. Thalberg consented, and Garbo returned to Hollywood loaded with research material about the queen. Some modern sources claim that Garbo requested Mamoulian as director, while others say that he was assigned by the studio. Although Garbo herself approved the casting of Olivier, whose screen tests she had viewed, she had difficulty performing love scenes with him, causing producer Walter Wanger to call on Gilbert. Gilbert, whose contract with M-G-M recently had expired and whose career was foundering, was given an impromptu screen test and, after Garbo applied pressure on the reluctant Louis B. Mayer, was cast. In a filmography in the biographical file on Edgar G. Ulmer at the AMPAS Library, he is listed as production designer for this film.
According to files in the MPPA/PCA Collection in the AMPAS Library, on January 8, 1934, Joseph I. Breen, director of Studio Relations of the AMPP, objected strenuously to the film's bedroom scene and suggested many deletions. Breen felt that "sex immorality" is presented in the story as "attractive and beautiful and made to appear 'right and permissible,'" a definite violation of the Code. In addition, Breen and several state censors objected to the line, "This is how the Lord must have felt when he first beheld the finished world," which is spoken by Garbo in the bedroom scene. A review board consisting of Carl Laemmle, Jr. of Universal, Jesse Lasky of Paramount and B. B. Kahane of RKO screened the picture, however, and deemed it acceptable.
Tickets for the film's New York run cost two dollars. In spite of generally favorable reviews, the film did not do well at the box office in America and failed to revive Gilbert's career. Modern sources complete the above cast list as follows: Edward Norris (Count Jacob) and Edward Gargan (Drinker at inn), and add Wade Boteler (Rabble-rouser). In a modern interview, Mamoulian recalled that to make Garbo laugh in one scene, he instructed Gilbert, Akim Tamiroff and two other actors to make silly faces at her off-screen. As hoped, she laughed spontaneously on camera, reportedly for the first time in her career.