Wendy Mitchell visits Turku, Finland to watch Mika Kaurismaki at work on his big international historical drama The Girl King

It is February in Turku, Finland, and outside Turku Castle a confident young woman gallops on horseback through the snow.

The woman is Malin Buska, who plays Sweden’s 17th century Queen Kristina in Mika Kaurismaki’s The Girl King. The confidence and the castle are
real; it is ironic that the snow is supplied by a local hockey rink. There is almost always snow in Turku at this time of year, but 2014’s weather is
not co-operating.

Kaurismaki takes such minor problems in his stride. Producer Anna Stratton notes: “It’s a quiet, calm set. Mika is very unflappable. He has made so
many films and has so much experience.”

And who cares about a load of snow when he has got a take-charge actress playing a hugely compelling role.

This film is a passion project for Kaurismaki, who was first drawn to the story in 1999. “I’ve always been fascinated by this character, from history classes back in school. She stuck in my mind,” he says.

Stratton of Toronto-based Triptych Media started developing the project in 2008 with Kaurismaki; they brought writer Michel Marc Bouchard (Tom At The
) on board in 2009. Financing was tricky, Stratton reveals: “In this risk-averse climate, historical films are difficult and we have an ‘undiscovered’ actress in the lead role.”

Of Bouchard, Stratton says that “his work is poetic and also succeeds in capturing the everyday. He’s sensitive to all the aspects of the story — political, spiritual, social, human.”

The story follows the enigmatic young Kristina torn between passion and power, pulled between Lutheran and Catholic forces; and being coerced into marrying and producing an heir while she is actually in love with her lady in waiting (played by Sarah Gadon).

A psychological story
As will be expected by fans of Kaurismaki’s previous films, this is not a typical costume drama. “In most films I have only one costume,” he says with a laugh. “When I was younger I never thought I would have made a costume drama.

“I wanted to do it not as a huge costume drama with huge battle scenes; it’s the psychological story of a young woman trying to decide what to do with her life. It’s about her mind… Of course, we’re true to the period with costumes and settings. But the story is very modern,” he says.

Finding his Kristina was “a long process”, but when he saw Buska in a film called Happy End, he says: “I thought, this is Kristina.” And as it happens Buska already felt a strong connection — her middle name comes from the queen. She was brave enough to shoot in English and also take on a role once made famous by Greta Garbo.

“She was already in the character from the first day of shoot,” says the director.

Buska has the right look, too, he adds. “She can look very childish or older.” Plus she had put in a lot of preparation for the role, arriving in Turku several months early to work on horse-riding skills, for example. And she read a lot about the queen.

Stratton adds: “Malin has risen to the challenge so admirably. She’s got incredible power and authority as well as a tenderness and youthful curiosity.”

Working internationally

There are some grand locations, such as the medieval Turku Castle, which is selected for authenticity’s sake, not for any home-country pride of the
director. In fact, Kristina’s mother Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg first realised she was pregnant with the future queen on a visit to Turku Castle.

The director looked at many other options. “I’ve seen so many castles I could be a castle guide,” he quips. “I’ve always had Turku Castle in the
back of my mind, and they also had the cathedral here in Turku.”

Teija Raninen of the West Finland Film Commission adds that in addition to helping with locations and some costs, the organisation likes to get local
businesses and people involved as much as possible — for instance, The Girl King’s costumes were made locally.

During a 40-day shoot, the production also took in Sweden and Germany; the crew was international but with a large Finnish contingent.

The Girl King is shot in the English language, something that has already attracted distribution partners: Equinoxe of Canada, SF Svensk for the
Nordic territories, and NFP for Germany.

The Yellow Affair handles sales and will show an eight-minute promo reel to buyers here in Cannes (invitation only).

Kaurismaki, who at 58 years old is the elder brother of Aki, splits his time between Finland (where he is also one of the founders of Midnight Sun
Film Festival) and Brazil (where he has made several films). Up next for him is Coming Home, a contemporary drama about a father and daughter planned
also to shoot in Finland this summer.

The Girl King (Can-Fin-Ger-Swe)

  • Director Mika Kaurismaki
  • Writer Michel Marc Bouchard (English-language version by Linda Gaboriau)
  • Producers Mika Kaurismaki, Anna Stratton, Arnie Gelbart, Rainer Kölmel, Wasiliki Bleser, Martin Persson
  • Production companies Triptych Media, Marianna Films, Starhaus Filmproduktion, Anagram Produktion, Galafilm
  • Cast Malin Buska, Lucas Bryant, Martina Gedeck, Sarah Gadon, Hippolyte Girardot, Michael Nyqvist, Laura Birn, Francois Arnaud
  • Budget $9.3m (€6.5m)
  • Backers Finnish Film Foundation, Eurimages, Telefilm Canada, Nordisk Film & TV Fund, West Finland Film Commission, Swedish Film Institute, Société de développement des entreprises culturelles, Québec Film, FilmFernsehFonds Bayern, Ontario Media Development Corporation, Harold Greenberg Fund, SVT, YLE
  • Status In post-production for a launch in early 2015
  • International sales The Yellow Affair contact@yellowaffair.com