Corsage (2022) is a brand-new film about Empress Elisabeth of Austria. However, rather than focussing on the youth of the Empress as films about her tend to do, we meet Elisabeth shortly before her 40th birthday in 1877.
Elisabeth realises that she is getting old, which only adds to her obsession with controlling the intake of food and her wish to keep her waistline down. Servants desperately work to fit Elisabeth into yet another tight corset as she rudely tells them off. This is an Elisabeth we’re not used to seeing, but this film tells more of the truth than any film has done before. Elisabeth laments the death of her eldest daughter Sophie, who died in infancy, as she stands by the closed-off nursery that is still as it once had been. We meet the adoring Rudolf, who worries about her and her youngest daughter, who is only 9 at the time and to whom Elisabeth speaks only Hungarian. Considering the fact that much of the story is focused on Elisabeth’s age, I was surprised that her daughter Gisela was not included. By 1877, Gisela had made Elisabeth a grandmother twice over. I think this would have added to the story.
The troubled relationship with her husband and son is also prominent in the film, as Elisabeth flees Vienna several times. We meet her cousin King Ludwig II of Bavaria, to whom she confides her wish to die. With a bit of truthful irony, he forbids her to drown in his lake. The two are obsessively close, and they spend time in bed together, although they do not sleep together.
Elisabeth’s ladies-in-waiting reluctantly suffer through Elisabeth’s whims. At one point, Elisabeth cuts off her hair – driving her hairdresser to madness as she had considered her life’s work. One lady-in-waiting is put on a strict diet of orange slices and broth, so she is able to stand in for Elisabeth at certain events. She is even forced to get the same tattoo as Elisabeth. Elisabeth’s doctor prescribes her heroine to manage her nerves and reminds her that she is now at an age where most of her people would be dead. As we move through Elisabeth’s troubled mind, we also deviate from history. Her assassination in 1898 is widely known, but Corsage has Elisabeth commit suicide by jumping from the bow of a ship, finally making her wish come true.
Overall, Corsage is a haunting film about a complicated woman. Its soundtrack is beautiful and goes well with the film. The romanticised myth around Elisabeth is deftly dealt with and puts Romy Schneider’s “Sissi” to bed. There’s a new Elisabeth in town, and it’s Vicky Krieps.
Corsage is set to be released in December 2022 in the UK and the US.
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