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The Empress: Is it Based on a True Story?

Shows about royals have been rising in the past few years: Netflix’s The Empress is one of the newcomers

This time, The Empress retells the story of the early life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria in a six-part series. Before its release, the only other well-known film adaptation of Empress Elisabeth’s life had been the 1950s Sissi trilogy, with Romy Schneider in the leading role.

A point of highlight for the show is how it presents us with modern themes while also transporting us to the historical time period of the Empress’ rule. Period dramas have advantages and disadvantages, but one of their main criticisms recently is how they present dissonant values as an excuse for exploitation. For example, sexism in historical periods seems a common trend to portray as “realistic” despite not adding anything people don’t already know to the conversation.

The Empress focuses on the meeting between the young Bavarian Duchess Elisabeth, played by Devrim Lingnau, and the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, played by Philip Froissant and mixes some fiction with non-fiction. This doesn’t necessarily provide the most accurate retelling of the story, but attempts to portray the most compelling one.

The Empress

The Empress © Netflix

The show follows those surrounding Elisabeth, such as her mother would prefer her to be more like her older sister Helene (Elisa Schlott) and Emperor Franz who has his own issues: the Hapsburg Empire is threatened, and the Austrians are on the brink of starting a revolution.

Archduchess Sophia would prefer for Franz to marry Helene, his cousin, but Franz would prefer the freer life he had before becoming an emperor. And, once Princess Ludovika and her daughters arrive to match Franz with Helene, the chemistry between Elisabeth and Franz is apparent, bonding over the resistance to their familial duties. Then, things get more complicated: Franz’s brother, Archduke Maximilian (Johannes Nussbaum) is also attracted to Sissi. Maxi is disregarded by his mother, who plays favourites with him and Franz.

The parallels with romantic period drama Bridgerton are apparent, especially now that Bridgerton fans are awaiting the third season after a steaming second run.

Lingnau’s performance as Sissi has been praised, as its appearance from her acting that the duchess would rather be with her staff at the stables than pimping up her dresses and gowns. Like the real-life Sissi, who had a more informal upbringing than most royals.

In truth, Princess Sophie would rather have her son Franz marry her niece than a stranger and Franz was infatuated with Sissi from the get-go. Five days later, their betrothal was announced.

The season ends on a cliffhanger, with a pregnant Elisabeth set to return to Bavaria.

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