Cast & Crew
17th-century Queen Christina of Sweden journeys to Rome to embrace the Catholic church and falls in love with a cardinal.
Gordon K. Mccallum
The Garbo film ignored the queen's religious leanings (to avoid alienating largely Protestant America) and only hinted at her bisexuality. Rather, it focused on her romance with a Spanish ambassador (John Gilbert) whose death motivates her abdication. For the new film, however, religion and sexuality share the center stage. The film follows Ullmann's Christina as she travels to Italy with only her jester (Michael Dunn) as company. There, Cardinal Azzolino (Peter Finch) is assigned to see if she has experienced a true conversion. As they discuss her religious feelings, flashbacks depict a youth in which she was raised to assume a man's responsibility and found herself attracted to both men and women. Ultimately, her meetings with the cardinal lead to an affair (as has been rumored for centuries) with dangerous repercussions.
Ruth Wolff's play, The Abdication, premiered at England's Bristol Old Vic Company in 1971 with Gemma Jones as the Swedish queen. It was later picked up for productions in the U.S., Italy, the Netherlands and Montreal. Although in history, Christina was met by the pope on her arrival and showered with gifts, Wolff fictionalizes the past to have the pope send Azzolino to interview Christina to determine whether she's worthy of such a meeting. This allows the playwright to use their meetings to consider the relationship between women and power in a patriarchal world.
After successes with The Boston Strangler (1968) and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), producers Robert Fryer and James Cresson bought the screen rights to Wolff's play, then hired her to write the adaptation. Anthony Harvey seemed a natural choice to direct, given his success with another royal story, The Lion in Winter (1968), for which he had won the Director's Guild Award. Oscar-winning cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth and composer Nino Rota added to the production's prestige. The producers' main coup, however, was in their choice of leading lady.
Ullmann had scored a huge success with international audiences on the strength of her work in Ingmar Bergman's films, particularly Persona (1966) and Scenes from a Marriage (1973), as well as Jan Troell's two films about a 19th-century Swedish family immigrating to the U.S., The Emigrants (1971) and The New Land (1972). As a result, Hollywood came calling with offers to appear in the musical version of Lost Horizon (1973), co-starring Finch, and 40 Carats (1973). The chance to top line a film version of Wolff's play had a special appeal to her. In Elizabeth Frost and Deborah C. Mitchell's Royal Portraits in Hollywood: Filming the Lives of Queens, Ullmann called the role of Queen Christina "a human being's dream part."
Rounding out the cast were Finch as the Cardinal; Cyril Cusack as Count Oxenstierna, who ran Christina's government; and Kathleen Byron, best known as the deranged nun in Black Narcissus (1947), as her mentally disturbed mother. To play Christina's faithful jester, they cast Dunn, an Oscar nominee for Ship of Fools (1965) and the most acclaimed dwarf actor of the period. Sadly, he died during filming in England and a stand-in was used to shoot his remaining scenes.
The Abdication was savaged by reviewers upon its initial release. Pauline Kael of The New Yorker described it as "embalmed in such reverence for its own cultural elevation that it loses all contact with the audience." As a result it was a failure at the box office that pretty much put an end to attempts to turn Ullmann into an American star. It has been rarely seen since then, but the few critics who have seen it have spearheaded a re-evaluation of the picture, suggesting its treatment of history and feminist issues was ahead of its time. In their book on films about queens, Royal Portraits in Hollywood, Frost and Mitchell call the film "a tantalizing look into the psyche of a woman, an anointed queen, trapped since the age of six in a gilded cage of duty and responsibility."
Director: Anthony Harvey
Producer: James Cresson, Robert Fryer
Screenplay: Ruth Wolff
Based on her play
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Score: Nino Rota
Cast: Peter Finch (Cardinal Azzolino), Liv Ullmann (Queen Kristina), Cyril Cusack (Oxenstierna), Paul Rogers (Altieri), Michael Dunn (The Dwarf), Kathleen Byron (Queen Mother)
By Frank Miller
Released in United States 1974
Released in United States 1974