The Empress - Photo Netflix
The Empress – Photo Netflix

If you enjoy watching interpretations of life in European courts (“The Crown,” “Victoria,”  “Bridgerton” and / or “The Great”), two German productions feature 19th century Austria’s Empress Elizabeth von Wittelsbach.

“The Empress” has captivated audiences around the world, appearing in Netflix’s global Top 10 non-English TV list for five straight weeks and topping the Top 10 in 88 countries around the world.

The titular Empress Elizabeth von Wittelsbach (Devrim Lingnau), often called ‘Sisi,’ was the outspoken, unconventional 16 year-old Bavarian duchess who caught the eye of her Hapsburg cousin, 22 year-old Franz Joseph I (Philip Froissant), originally slated to marry her demure older sister Helene (Elisa Schlott).

When feisty, freedom-loving Elizabeth arrived at the sumptuous Viennese Court, her behavior was immediately criticized by her controlling, authoritarian mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophia (Melika Foroutan), who insisted on observing strictly rigid protocol with its stifling subjugation.

In addition, Elizabeth was persistently bedeviled by her husband’s jealous younger brother, Archduke Maximilian (Johannes Nussbaum), who was eager to seize the throne since the Hapsburg Empire was being threatened on its borders and the Austrian people were starving, ready to ignite a Revolution.

Duplicity is rampant, epitomized by Elizabeth’s favorite confidante / lady-in-waiting, known as scheming Leontine von Apafi (Almila Bagriacik),

Admittedly, many historical facts have been romanticized for this 19th century period drama, according to show-runner / writer Katharina Eyssen, who is from Bavaria in southern Germany; for her, it’s primarily a coming-of-age love story.

FYI: Franz Joseph’s castle is Schloss Weissenstein located in Pommersfelden, a small town northwest of Nuremberg.

As with all foreign language series on Netflix, you can watch it dubbed into English or in its original German with subtitles.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Empress” is an engaging 8 – with six episodes of its first season streaming on Netflix and renewed for season two.

Corsage - Photo IFC Films
Corsage – Photo IFC Films

My fascination with Empress Elizabeth led me to screen “Corsage,” another German production, released to theaters last year and now available to stream. “Corsage” picks up Sisi’s story after she has given birth to several children.  

Director/screenwriter Marie Kreutzer shows Sisi as still headstrong and rebellious, recklessly riding horses and fencing, traveling around Europe, visiting old friends and former lovers.

Beautiful but obsessively concerned about her appearance, Elizabeth obviously had an (undiagnosed) eating disorder, weighing herself several times a day, consuming only beef broth and orange slices, and often fasting, which caused her to faint.

Her anachronistically fictionalized story depicts a vain, unconventional woman caught in a regimental life that’s filled with society-imposed constrictions. As Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, she’s a powerless figurehead, expected to defy time and aging, a concept geared to resonate with female viewers. 

Determined to stay eternally young in the eyes of her subjects, Elizabeth refused all portraits and photographs after she turned 40, referring to that milestone as when “a person begins to disperse and fade.”

Elizabeth’s only satisfaction seems to come from being admired by others. She flirts – but only to confirm her desirability. She routinely visits with hospitalized mental patients, distributing superficial sympathy along with cigarettes and candied violets.

FYI: The title does not refer to a small floral bouquet. Instead, it’s the German word for ‘corset,’ the stiff 19th century bodice that’s laced to tightly constrict a woman’s waistline to conform to the fashionable hourglass shape.

In German with English subtitles, on the Granger Gauge, “Corsage” is a strange, suffocating, suitably subtle 6, available to buy/rent on Prime Video, iTunes, Google Play and Vudu.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.