Netflix just couldn’t stay away and had to dive into the story of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as Sisi. The series has six episodes which are all around one hour long. We begin where most of the Sisi productions begin – around the time of her engagement to Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.
We meet the demure older sister Helene who was originally intended for the Emperor, although there is no evidence for this in real life. The series rather shies away from mentioning the family connections. Does it perhaps make it less romantic to know that a 16-year-old married her 23-year-old first cousin? Anyway, there is some truth to their arrival in mourning dress, although it wasn’t for “uncle Georg.”
Franz Joseph’s mother is dressed as a classic evil mother-in-law, and she certainly holds up that image throughout the episodes. However, the only humanity in her is shown when she speaks of the death of her little daughter. I was surprised to find this included as it’s not well-known that she really did lose a daughter. I also liked the inclusion of Franz Joseph’s younger brother Ludwig Viktor, who is shown dressing like a girl and playing with dolls. In real life, he was eventually banished from Vienna following a scandal.
Franz Joseph’s brother Maximilian is shown as a pouty and spoiled Backstreet Boy who demands to rule as well and plans to overthrow his brother to achieve this. He is quite possibly the most annoying character here, and Elisabeth has some weird attraction to him. Franz Joseph’s father makes an appearance as well, although it is not explained how Franz Joseph can be Emperor while his father is alive. The only one that appears to be missing is the third eldest brother, Karl Ludwig, who in real-life becomes the grandfather of Franz Joseph’s eventual heir.
Despite Elisabeth having a large family, we only really meet a few of them. First, of course, there’s Helene. Then her mother, who doesn’t really leave an impression. Her father is shown as a philandering man, which is closer to the truth than the Sisi movies ever got. As Elisabeth was particularly close to her sisters, I am hoping we’ll meet more of them if the series is given another season.
Elisabeth herself is rather blase throughout the episodes. Her father in bed with multiple women makes no impression on her, and even when Franz Joseph picks her over Helene, she seems unimpressed with her sister’s misery. She undergoes her transformation to Empress in the most awful wedding dress and tiara that I have ever seen. This brings us to the costumes in general. These are weirdly modern and come with big pieces of plastic-y jewellery. Helene’s “revenge” transformation includes her hair cut into a strange long bob.
In an attempt to introduce some more tension, Elisabeth’s group of ladies is infiltrated by someone who wishes to do her harm. It seems rather ludicrous if you consider how tightly controlled the access to the court was.
After six episodes, I am still wondering whose story I watched here. Empress Elisabeth’s real story is so interesting and even dramatic. Now we just need to find someone with the guts to tell it.
The Empress is available worldwide on Netflix.