The Abdication (1974)



Director:     Anthony Harvey. 

Starring:     Peter Finch (Cardinal Azzolino), Liv Ullmann (Queen Kristina), Cyril Cusack (Oxenstierna), Paul Rogers (Altieri), Graham Crowden (Cardinal Barberini), Michael Dunn (The Dwarf), Kathleen Byron (Queen Mother), Lewis Fiander (Father Dominic), Harold Goldblatt (Pinamonti), Tony Steedman (Carranza), Noel Trevarthen (Ginetti), Richard Cornish (Charles), James Faulkner (Magnus de la Gardie), Edward Underdown (Gustaf II Adolf, Christina's father).

Queen Christina of Sweden abdicates; what happened to Queen Christina when she converted to Catholicism


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Queen Kristina abdicates her throne to her successor.  She runs down a long hall, lets her hair down, smiles and laughs as if celebrating her new freedom. 

Christina with a dwarf shows up in Rome.  She visits the house of a friend to find she won't return for another week.  Christina tells a clergyman named Dominic to tell the Pope that "I've arrived to throw myself at his feet to become his newest and most ardent Catholic." 

The Catholic clergy are not too happy to receive Kristina.  One says she is depraved and a libertine.  Rome itself has been preparing for her arrival for a month.  They decide to send someone to investigate her.  They believe she is in the north of Italy.  At this time Dominic tells the highest ranking clergyman about her arrival and he announces:  "The Queen is here!"  Everyone is flabbergasted. 

Kristina will be put through an examination before she is accepted into the faith.  Informed about the examination, Kristina feels insulted saying that she thought she would have been warmly welcomed by the Pope himself instead of a faceless emissary.  The emissary Azzolino asks her where are her maid servants and she simply says:  "I prefer the company of men."  Dominic is told to show the ex-queen to her quarters.  The dwarf inspects the accommodations and refuses apartment after apartment.  In all, he rejects twelve apartments.  Kristina says she wants 20 rooms for herself.  Dominic thinks Kristina mad.  Cardinal Azzolino tells him to give her the entire tower.   

Kristina talks with Azzolino and he tells her frankly that there are doubts about the sincerity of her conversion.  She demands to know why and Azzolino shows her the book The Pleasures and Depravities of Queen Kristina.  Kristina says she just laughs at the book.  Then Azzolino shows her letters from priests and others all along her route from Sweden to Rome telling of her "escapades".  He tells her that if she has done these things, she will only be accepted if she is repentant.  Kristina finds the whole thing insulting.  Azzolino tells her the facts of life.  She must be accepted and greeted by the Pope for she has nowhere else she can go now.  She finally agrees to the examination.

After a fit less night of sleep she meets with Azzolino to tell him the story of her life.  He says he wants her to be serious and obedient. 

She begins her story.  She became queen when she was very young and had to obey her Prime Minister Oxenstierna.  Azzolino says they say she was brought up as a boy.  As a young woman she liked to play a truth game with her dear friends Ebba, the handsome Magnus de la Gardie and her cousin Charles (who she abdicated to).  She tells her companions that she never lies and maintains that has always been her way.  She becomes uncooperative and Azzolino says he won't go on with this.  The accusatory documents will stand as the truth. 

Other clergymen tells Azzolino that they are worried.  If the Pope dies, Altieri will be their next pope.  He will make peace with the Turks and encourage the war between France and Spain.  Azzolino says he is well aware of the political stakes. 

At night Kristina has a worrisome dream involving her mother and rushes down to speak to Azzolino.  When he asks her if she can't sleep, she says:  "Sleep is the refuge of idiots."  Azzolino asks her why can't she sleep?  This takes Kristina aback and she has some unpleasant flashbacks.  Her mother was distraught and distant asking why do her babies die?  She hated her mother for being weak and hysterical.  She tells Azzolino that she keeps a dwarf to remind her of  her inner self.

Kristina tells Azzolino that her Ebba was a woman embodying all the characteristics of a perfect woman.  But she was disturbed by the growing affection between Ebba and Magnus.  Kristina cuts her hair short.  She tells Ebba that she loves her.   Azzolino accuses her of engaging in unnatural acts, but Kristina insists it was just pure love.  Kristina gets mad again about waiting and tells Azzolino that the world will laugh when they learn that Kristina walked out on the Pope.  She rushes to her quarters to start packing. 

The other clergy are not happy to hear that Azzolino has still not made his decision about Kristina and now has let Kristina go.  After all, all of Christendom wants to know how the Pope reacts to Kristina and how Kristina reacts to the Pope.  How could he let her go?  Azzolino says he is gambling that she will reach the gate and then turn back. 

Kristina demands to know from Azzolino if the Pope is really dying.  Yes, he is.  She tells her dwarf to go and pack.  Azzolino tells her to stay and find out who she really is and what she truly wants. 

Kristina remembers her father, King Gustavus Adolphus II, and being with him during war time.  She also remembers his death when she was around six years old. 

Kristina remembers speaking with Magnus and asking him to tell her all about France.  She enjoys his attentions and tells Oxenstierna that she will make him her husband.  The Prime Minister says that she will have to ask the Council.  She runs after Magnus, but sees him and Ebba kissing.  Kristina tells Azzolino that she came to Rome to forget.  She is shocked at herself for telling things to Azzolino that she has never spoken to anyone about.  She runs from him. 

The clergy puts pressure on Azzolino to come to his final decision about Kristina. 

Kristina remembers speaking with Ebba. She wants to watch her making love.  Ebba tells her to find out for herself, but Kristina begs her.  Ebba consents.  Kristina watches as tears roll down her cheeks.  Later Magnus confronts Kristina about being there.  He asks he why she didn't ask if she wanted to find out?  He starts to force himself on her, but Kristina fights him.  Then Magnus turns his verbal wrath on her saying she will never find anyone to love her for she has no feelings for love, she cannot love. 

Kristina asks Oxenstierna if she did right by dismissing Magnus from his post?  He just says it was her prerogative.  She says she did wrong.  Oxenstierna tells her to marry and make joy for everyone.  Kristina just wonders what joy would there be in it for her?  Charles comes in to deliver some papers and Kristina just ignores him.  Later Oxenstierna tells her that Charles admires her deeply.  But Kristina says she would never give him an inch of her body. 

Walking on the beach Kristina asks Charles to describe their wedding night.  She orders him to speak.  He gets scared and runs away.  Oxenstierna comes to Kristina to tell her it is her duty to marry Charles.  She mocks the very idea saying that Oxenstierna find her a man who can bear her children.  She swears to never marry a man.  Kristina swears this same oath to Azzolino, but adds:  unless it be to you.  This shocks Azzolino. 

Azzolino comes with Father Dominic as his scribe to speak with Kristina.  Today she actually wears a lovely dress, a big change from the male clothing she has been wearing.  Both men are shocked.  Alone she tells Azzolino that she is courting him and she is serious about it.  Azzolino asks her why she never married? 

Oxenstierna tells Kristina that the people want her to marry and have children to insure the succession.  She tells him and the others at the table that she is going to have a son.  The son will be her successor.  And her son is none other than Charles.  Charles tells her that he wants to have a son with her.  Magnus asks her why she will not marry and have children.  She says because she is saving her maidenhood for God.  (She tells Azzolino that she just said it to shut them up.)  But then she tells Azzolino that she found the Catholic faith that celebrates a woman's virginity.  She met with priests in secret.  She gets a little too excited and Azzolino has to walk away from her. 

Kristina tells Oxenstierna that she wants to be loved.  Oxenstierna wants her to decide whether Sweden will ally themselves with France or Spain.  She says that she isn't of any sex.  This frustrates her and she destroys a musical instrument in her hands.  Then she knocks everything off the table.  Kristina cries.  Ebba finds her laying in a field.  Kristina tells her that she is going to give up the crown. 

Azzolino confronts Kristina saying that she expects to be the Queen of Rome, an equal to the Pope, reigning with him.  She tells him that she has never loved, not even God and has never given herself to anyone.  Azzolino says he will recommend her to be accepted as a Catholic, but only on the condition that she stop acting over friendly with him.  She asks him if he does not have any feelings for her at all?  She says she loves him.  So Azzolino tells her that she will never be received by the Pope and leaves.  Kristina faints. 

A clergyman tells Azzolino that the gossip is that he and Kristina have been together.  Azzolino replies that he asks God to save him from the common mind.  When he is alone, Azzolino asks God to save him from himself. 

The next morning Kristina wears a simple dress.  Azzolino prays to God in front of Kristina asking Him to forgive him for having sex with a woman after he was a priest.  He punished himself for a thousand days and finally was cured of his obsession.  He vowed then never again and he does not want to lose himself again. But then Kristina came along and he does love and doesn't think it a sin or a weakness.  He says:  "I do love; I do want; I do desire."  She asks if he desires her and he says yes.  Kristina says she wants to give herself to him, but Azzolino says they will be damned.  They kiss.  She then tells him that she loves him.  Kristina suggests that they run away. 

Father Dominic arrives to tell them that the Pope is dying.  Azzolino goes with him.  Kristina feels that God is asking her to let Azzolino go, but she wonders if the purpose of her life will be to abdicate everything.  She walks into the room filled with clergy waiting to hear news of the Pope.  They all watch her as she walks by them.  Some are shocked by her behavior.  She stares at Azzolino and he watches her.  She approaches him and he goes to her too.  The Pope has agreed to see her, because of what she is.  And the Pope has asked Azzolino to rededicate himself to God.  Kristina says that Azzolino gives her up so easily.  He responds:  "If you think that, then you understand nothing of me."  But God's kingdom is greater and must be served.  Kritsina asks:  "Are we not the world's strangest couple, saying no to each other and that's the greatest gift we can give to each other?"   

Kristina looks up to the many steps leading up to the Pope's room.    


I enjoyed the film very much.  What was interesting were the insights into Queen Kristina's character.  She seems to have had some problem with her gender identity.  There are a lot of interesting quotes from the film about her attitudes toward sex and procreation.  The "love" connection probably never happened, but that's alright, because the rest of the movie makes up for it.  Liv Ullman was very good as Queen Kristina. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)