The Empress, a German series, tells the story of the love match between Austrian emperor Franz Joseph and Elisabeth von Wittelsbach. Elisabeth married Franz because she wanted to be his wife, not because she wanted to be an empress. That was a source of plenty of trouble.
When The Empress begins, we meet the sisters Helene (Elisa Schlott) and Elisabeth (Devrim Lingnau). Helene had been trained for the role of empress and was ready to do the job. Elisabeth was an unruly, opinionated, free thinking woman who hated to follow rules.
When they went to the palace to meet Franz Joseph (Philip Froissant), he fell for the rule breaker and married the sister who was completely unsuited to be a leader in the Habsburg court.
It wasn’t just a love story, of course. There were world events swirling outside Austria, there was unrest among the population, there was intrigue and backstabbing in the palace.
The Russians and French were pushing at the borders. Franz wanted to avoid war. His mother, Sophie (Melika Foroutan), had been running the empire herself for quite some time. She pushed for a strong military response as did many of Franz’s advisors. Franz wanted to spend the money a war would require on a nationwide railroad that would bring prosperity to the country.
Archduke Maximilian (Johannes Nussbaum), Franz’s brother, was also in the palace. He caused plenty of trouble himself.
Sophie assigned a large number of women to surround Elisabeth and train her in the proper way to be an empress. Chief among them was Esterházy (Wiebke Puls). Formidable as she was, she couldn’t tame the untamable Elisabeth. There were all kinds of women in this group including one imposter who was there to aid a revolution among the peasants.
The costumes and sets were all gorgeous and splendid. Katrin Gebbe was lead director with Katharina Eyssen was lead writer. The entire team behind the scenes did a great job with this series. I really responded to making the story centered around the women characters.
The story was full of excitement and suspense and always interesting. The love story was sexy without objectifying Devrim Lingnau, something I noticed and appreciated.
Season 1 ends on a fraught cliffhanger and the promise that season 2 is on the way.
What about historical accuracy? There were hints that the story was not accurate in historical terms. I watched it as “a story” with interesting characters and interesting events. I wanted to stop watching and research the history of this couple but didn’t. I knew what I would find would detract from seeing this as fiction based on real characters. I don’t know if I can stick to that as I wait for season 2, but I completely enjoyed season 1 and don’t want to tarnish that enjoyment with too much fact.
Elisabeth is a favorite topic for movie makers – there are other films and series about this couple that are very different. Which is right? Maybe none. In story terms, however, this is a good one.
This is a Netflix series. You can see the trailer for season 1 on YouTube. The trailer is dubbed in English, but the series is in German. I hate dubbing, just FYI.