Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A 19th Century Glamour Girl

For the last couple of days I haven't been feeling well so that I had no energy for a long post , but as I'm now feeling better I'd like to  write about Empress Sissi, both the film and the historical character.

The Sissi-trilogy was made in the 1950s and it tells us the highly romanticised version of the real events in life of Elisabeth of Bavaria, later Empress Elisabeth of Austria. She is played by Romy Schneider, while Karlheinz Boehm plays Emperor Franz Joseph. There is also a new film about Sissi made in the 2000s which gives a much more detailed and realistic portrayal of her life and is, consequently, less pleasant to watch, as despite all the attempts of the narrators to present Elisabeth as a victim, one can't fail noticing that her character and manner of behaviour were far from perfect.

The old films follow the classic fairy tale pattern, where the girl meets the prince of her dreams and marries him, triumphing over an evil female adversary (a wicked stepmother, which in Sissi-trilogy turns into the wicked mother-in-law), and they live happily ever after (except that they don't). In the end of the last film Sissi overcomes a grave illness and reunites with her husband and her daughter.

Sissi is shown as a free spirit raised by loving parents to live in harmony with nature, while her evil mother-in-law is constantly trying to undermine her, apparently due to her in-born wickedness. In reality, her mother-in-law Princess Sophie was a woman who dedicated her whole life to her family and the Austrian monarchy, whose most important principle in life was doing her duty, in contrast to Elisabeth, who always did whatever the heck she wanted to do at the moment.

As for Sissi's parents, far from being an exemplary couple, at one point in her life her mother tried to get a divorce using the fact that her eldest daughter was engaged to the king, which circumstance made the king break the engagement (though in all probability he wasn't especially keen on this marriage from the very beginning.)

However, nobody is really interested in all those boring facts, and Sissi is remembered as a glamorous and tragic figure from the Victorian age. She was so much obsessed with staying thin that she never dined with her husband as she was following a special diet. The last years of her life they basically lived apart till her tragic death at the age of 61.

In the film, Franz Joseph's mother warns him against marrying Elisabeth, but he refuses to listen, and it is shown as the triumph of love over prejudice, but with years I have come to conclusion that she was probably right. Franz Joseph is one person I have  tremendous sympathy for, especially when one considers how his life was full of tragic events.

One of his daughters died young (partly due to Sissi's stubborness when she insisted on taking the sick child with her on a trip against the doctor's wishes), his son committed suicide (though nowadays there is information that he was probably murdered), his brother was executed in Mexico and his wife from whom he was separated was murdered in Switzerland by an Italian anarchist.

However, all these tragic events are not shown in the 1950s trilogy. It concentrates on the positive things in their life and promotes motherhood and family values, with beautiful costumes, splendid scenery and a happy-end. I would recommend it to anyone, young and old.


  1. Hello! I have been reading your blog for some time through the Homeliving blog list.

    I love this review!! I especially appreciate the true, historical details you included. Hopefully, I can find a way of watching this trilogy as the clip looks lovely. Thank you for taking the time to write this detailed review!

    Mrs. C

  2. Also if you follow this link:

    you can watch the pictures we took in Vienna last year, they include the royal palace and the graves of Franz Joseph and Sissi.