Joining the long list of depictions of queens of Europe in popular culture like Queen Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria, Marie Antoinette, and Catherine, the great, is empress Elisabeth of Austria.
Netflix’s magnificent, robustly built, and handsomely furnished six-part series ‘The Empress’ (Die Kaiserin) brings to us the wonderful story of a princess who went on to become the queen of an empire which was on the cusp of facing a revolution in the 19th century.
Duchess Elisabeth (Devrim Lingnau), aka Sisi, the princess of Bavaria is someone who refuses to confine herself to the conventional regal norms of that time. She is an equestrienne and hopes of finding a soulmate as her life partner. Eventually, she is chosen over her sister Helene by emperor Franz Joseph (Philip Froissant) and the teenager is thrown into the merciless life of the Viennese court where she faces her over ambitious mother-in-law archduchess Sophia (played by an outstanding Melika Foroutan) and her ever scheming brother-in-law Maximillian (an equally brilliant Johannes Nussbaum).
Elisabeth is not prepared for anything and all her good-intentioned moves backfire. She even fails in the only duty she is expected to perform – be a royal breeding machine. Her mother-in-law keeps a stern eye on her and keeps reminding her of producing an heir. Elisabeth tries hard to make the most of her new life as initially, she enjoys the support of the emperor. While she wants to show empathy with people and do things differently, the family believes in maintaining a safe distance from the people. Things come to head when she loses the emperor’s support. That’s exactly the time when anger among members of the public too rising and they are up in arms literally at the gates of the royal palace.
At the surface of it, ‘The Empress’ is a lavish romance set against the backdrop of turbulent 19th-century Europe, Austria in particular. Scratch a bit beneath it and you will find yourself amused by the palace intrigues, machinations, and a brewing public revolution. It is history minus the histrionics. The icing on the cake is that we come to know about the events of this tumbling empire from a woman’s point of view.
Devrim Lingnau and Philip Froissant as the lead pair deliver a decent performance as they successfully portray the vulnerabilities of their respective characters. You can make out that they are in love, as newlyweds. You feel for them when they fight and are unhappy. It’s a treat to watch the scenes with the two in it as their chemistry sizzles.
‘The Empress’ is a lavishly mounted series that is slightly more than six hours long. It is visually stunning, to say the least. Who doesn’t like to see the breathtaking interiors (do not miss the painted ceilings) of a palace and the exquisite costumes? Directors Katrin Gebbe and Florian Cossen believe in a slow-burner and keep the pace of events unfolding medium. But while doing so they ensure that the intensity of the story stays gripping throughout with its myriad subplots.
The first Season not only tells the story of a princess becoming a queen and a revolution waiting to happen concurrently but also whets our appetite for more as this is just the beginning. The story has just started unfolding as we know that eventually the empress was assassinated. So, it would be interesting to know about the events that ultimately led to her tragic end. The subjects of the OTT world have no choice but to wait for the next season of ‘The Empress’.