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Austria’s empress: These are latest TV shows and movies about Sissi

A new movie and two TV shows are set to reignite the fascination with Austrian Empress Elisabeth, popularly known as Sissi.

Austria's empress: These are latest TV shows and movies about Sissi
Picture taken on January 22, 2022 shows the statue at the monument to Empress Elisabeth of Austria, popularly known as "Sissi" in the Volksgarten (People's Garden) in Vienna. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

She was the Princess Diana of the 19th  century. An impossibly glamorous Austro-Hungarian empress whose star-crossed  love life and tragic end entranced the public.

Now a movie and two new series — including one being made for Netflix — are set to reignite the fascination with Empress Elisabeth, who was popularly known as “Sisi”.

The film, “Corsage”, premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday while the series, “Sisi” — which covers her early life and turbulent marriage to Emperor Franz-Joseph — is streaming in Germany on RTL+ and is broadcasted in Austria on ORF.

READ ALSO: Austria’s ‘original influencer’: Ten weird facts about the Austrian Royal Family and Empress Sissi

It has already raised eyebrows there with its frank depiction of the young empress’ sexuality while garnering favourable reviews from critics.

The series’ Swiss-American star Dominique Devenport told AFP that part of the upsurge in interest in Sisi is a desire “to find more female narratives”.

A portrait of Princess Sissi displayed in her Imperial Apartments in Venice.(Photo by VINCENZO PINTO / AFP

She may have been one of the most famous women of the 19th century, but Devenport said Sisi’s life was “full of extremes, full of pain”.

Married to Franz-Joseph when she was just 16, Sisi chafed against the rituals and strictures of life at the stiff and stuffy Habsburg court.

Devenport said the questions she asks of herself in the series are ones many young people today can relate to: “How can I stay myself; what decisions do I make, how do I keep up with what is expected from me?”

READ ALSO: Austria’s dirndl: a dress for past and present

The rival Netflix series, “The Empress”, is still in production, with release slated for later this year.

A royal star 

Historian Martina Winkelhofer said Sisi was “one of the first very famous women in Europe”.

“You have to consider that she came into Austrian history at the beginning of mass media,” she said.

The inscription on the monument to Empress Elisabeth of Austria, popularly known as “Sissi” in the Volksgarten (People’s Garden) in Vienna. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

The advent of photography turbocharged her fame — “suddenly you had the wife of an emperor who you could really see.”

With the current thirst for stories with strong female characters, it was no surprise that Sisi’s story would be revisited, Winkelhofer argued.

Sisi was also obsessed with her own image, and her figure. In the elegant 19th century Hermes Villa on the outskirts of Vienna where the empress spent some of her later years, curator Michaela Lindinger pointed to the exercise equipment which Sisi used in an effort “to keep young really until her last day”.

READ ALSO: WW1 centenary: Austria and Hungary stand apart on ‘lost grandeur’ of the past

Vicky Krieps, the acclaimed Luxembourg-born actress who made her breakthrough opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread”, plays this later Sisi in “Corsage”, withdrawing from her husband and from life at court.

In Sisi’s bedroom, a gloomy statue entitled “Melancholia” is a sign of the sadness that overcame her after the suicide of her son and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Rudolf, in 1889.

Just under 10 years later, she herself died at the age of 60, assassinated by an Italian anarchist.

Enduring fairy tale

Traditionally, however, it has been the fairy tale aspect of Sisi’s life that has drawn attention and made sites like Vienna’s Schoenbrunn Palace among Austria’s most popular attractions.

Sisi has become a representation of Habsburg glamour far beyond Austria’s borders, and is a particular cult figure in China.

Picture taken on January 21, 2022 shows the original bedroom of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, popularly known as “Sissi”, in the exhibition in the Hermes Villa in Tiergarten in Vienna where the empress spent some of her later years. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Indeed, Andreas Gutzeit, the showrunner of the series “Sisi”, said he got the idea to revisit the story after watching the trilogy of 1950s films in which the empress was portrayed by Vienna-born actress Romy Schneider, whose life was also a high-octane mix of glamour and tragedy.

READ ALSO: Here are over 20 things you can do in Vienna for free

Gutzeit said the RTL+ series has already been sold to several countries in eastern Europe and as far afield as Brazil.

The many different facets of the empress’ life mean that “in each period, you have your own Sisi”, insisted historian Winkelhofer.

Over the ages her image has moved from a focus on her physical beauty to her use of charm, to more modern depictions of her as a more assertive and empowered proto-feminist figure.

“You can discover a new woman in each lifetime,” Winkelhofer said.

Where to watch?

  • Sisi, a TV show, is streaming in Germany on RTL+ and is broadcasted in Austria on ORF.
  • The Empress, a Netflix show, will stream later this year in the platform.
  • Corsage, the movie by Marie Kreutzer starring Vicky Krieps, is set to hit the cinemas this summer after its Cannes premiere.

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DISCOVER AUSTRIA

Donauinselfest: What you need to know about Austria’s biggest open air festival

Austria has the largest free open-air festival in Europe, and the Donauinselfest is taking place this weekend. Here is what you need to know.

Donauinselfest: What you need to know about Austria's biggest open air festival

The Austrian Donauinselfest is known as the largest free open-air music festival in Europe, and it happens yearly on Vienna’s Danube island. The festival attracts around three million visitors over its three days of events and is starting on Friday in the Austrian capital.

The festival has been taking place yearly since 1983 on the 21.1-kilometre river island. This year, it has 14 different areas and 11 stages, according to the official website. Visitors can expect more than 600 hours of program.

READ ALSO: The best festivals and events to enjoy in Austria this summer

Here is what you need to know to enjoy the programme fully.

When and where is the festival?

The festival has an extensive range of events starting on Friday, June 24th, and lasting until Sunday, June 26th. It takes place on the island between the new Danube and the Danube rivers, known as the Donauinsel.

READ ALSO: 7 things to know about driving in Austria this summer

It is easily accessible via the U1 (Donauinsel station) and U6 (Handelskai station) metro and there are no parking spaces available near the festival site.

Admission to the event is free.

The festival is back after the pandemic

After two years of reduced capacity and many Covid-19 restrictions, the Donauinselfest is back to (almost) normal. There is no limit to the number of visitors, no requirement to show proof of vaccination or recovery from the disease, and no mask mandate.

However, the authorities have asked that people take “personal responsibility” as coronavirus infection numbers have been rising.

READ ALSO: Five of the best things to do in Vienna this summer

The organisers have requested people to get tested before visiting the vast festival, Vienna.at reported.

People gather on the shores of the Danube river, in Vienna during a hot sunny day and Danube Day on June 29, 2012. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER KLEIN

“We ask everyone who would like to visit the Donauinselfest this year to take a PCR or rapid test in advance and thus protect themselves and others. People with symptoms are not allowed to enter the festival grounds.”, said organiser Matthias Friedrich.

Though masks are not mandatory, they are recommended on-site if it is too full of people and no social distancing is possible. Besides, there is a masks requirement to all Donauinselfest workers in indoor areas.

Watch out for what you cannot bring

There is an extensive list of things that are not allowed on the festival site. For example, visitors are not allowed to take large bags and backpacks (“A3 format”, according to the website). However, a gym bag is not considered a backpack.

Animals, including dogs, are prohibited – except for guide dogs and service dogs.

You are also not allowed to bring umbrellas, alcoholic beverages, cans, glass bottles, or drones. The list of prohibited items includes “propaganda material”, spray bottles, whistles, large or bulky objects, bicycles and skateboards, stools and chairs, food and more.

Check out the complete list here.

Danube festival

Vienna’s “Danube-island” Festival will return this weekend. (Photo by DIETER NAGL / AFP)

READ ALSO: Forecast: Austria set for high temperatures and storms throughout weekend and beyond

You can – and should – bring plenty of water and sunscreen, as temperatures are expected to be around the 30Cs over the next few days.

What kind of music is there?

The festival has several stages and a broad programme selection. The bands are usually more regional, with a significant presence of Austrian, German, and Italian bands.

You can find all sorts of music, from pop to rock, rap, and techno. There are even tribute bands like Break Free, which will play Queen’s best signs on the rock stage.

The program includes other activities as well, such as poetry slam, art stages, sport areas, and even events for families and children.

You can check the official program here.

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