Nationell ära och manlighet i Karl XII (1925) - en historisk filmanalys

Tommy Gustafsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During the 1920s, when the Swedish defence was under heavy debate, military and conservative forces on the right tried to turn the Swedish public opinion towards a climate more in favour of the defence by producing a big budget war film – Karl XII. In several senses the film became a great success. In Sweden the attendance figures were as high as one million (of a population of six) and the film was also exported to 19 countries. In addition to that the film was also hailed, by a an almost unanimous critical body, as a great Swedish artistic success. Karl XII was seen as a credit for the Swedish film production, and by that it also contributed to the Swedish national honour in the competition with foreign film production, especially American.
With a gender perspective on this matter this artistic success was characterized as a specific male achievement by the Swedish reviewer’s. In some cases explicitly, but overall implicitly since this success was connected to the national honour with it’s male connotations.
However, the propaganda piece that Karl XII was meant to be didn’t turn the Swedish opinion around. Both the right and the left wings in Swedish political life showed a clear awareness about the film’s underlying motive, and in spite of the success, Karl XII could only awaken patriotism among groups where it already existed. The same year as the film had it’s premier, 1925, the Swedish Parliament also took the decision to heavily cut the defence budget.
With the notion that Karl XII was a propaganda piece meant to strengthen the Swedish defence, and the fact that this film is the only fully produced war film in the history of Swedish filmmaking, it becomes an interesting object for an examination of representations of masculinities in Sweden in the 1920s. A close reading of four of the film’s male characters, the effeminate dandy Hans Küsel, the boyish man Lasse Ulfclou, and the two rivals Charles XII and Peter the Great, showed that the film included a wide gallery of masculinities which didn’t always correspond with it’s articulated propaganda purpose to strengthen the Swedish defence, and in extension, to harden the Swedish masculinity in general.
The reason for this lies not in the fact that the filmmakers and the initiators failed entirely with their purposes. In one important sense they did succeed. By avoiding to apply every male character in the film with traits of ideal hegemonic masculinity, they managed to produce a contemporary and complex representation of male gender and it’s mutual relations. And even though the film didn’t influence the complicated political struggle over the Swedish defence, they produced a film that worked just because it contained credible male characters with whom the contemporary audience could relate. Had all of the film’s characters been as unreal as Charles XII, with his strong hegemonic masculinity, the audience would most certainly have felt alienated and not bought a ticket for the film, but the audience didn’t fail Karl XII.
Original languageSwedish
Pages (from-to)46-76
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History


  • War
  • Nation
  • Masculinity
  • Karl XII
  • Film

Cite this