Monday, January 24, 2011

Sissi: The Young Empress (1956)

Sometimes when we see an historical event dramatized it gives insight into the past, granted the situation is correctly portrayed. In Sissi: The Young Empress (Sissi - Die junge Kaiserin), the sequel of Sissi, it is difficult not to shed tears when Empress Elizabeth's baby is taken away from her by her mother-in-law. It became more clear to me than ever that the trauma of that event, which was made worse by Franz Joseph taking his mother's side, was the first of many that would lead to the breakdown of Elizabeth's emotional and physical health. One can see why she later became obsessed by her beauty, since being early on deprived of the company of her children and frequently of her husband, all she could do was pour her energy into being the most beautiful woman in the world. It must have seemed to her that her looks were the only thing for which she was valued. It is a shame, because Elizabeth was a clever woman, with an ability to master foreign languages, as is touched upon in the film. What is more, she had the ability not only to create her own world but draw others into it, a magical quality which the actress Romy Schneider captures in her portrayal of the Empress.

As for the Archduchess Sophie, Elizabeth's mother-in-law, I do respect her as a formidable princess who saved the Habsburg dynasty. Sophie never asked anyone to make a sacrifice that she would not have asked of herself, which made her a indefatigable character. Her treatment of Elizabeth reminds me of how St. Louis' mother Queen Blanche treated her daughter-in-law Queen Marguerite. In order to maintain her influence on Franz Joseph she deliberately drove a wedge between him and the wife whom he loved so passionately. The only way Elizabeth felt that she could deal with such interference was to take flight.

The film takes liberties with history in that when the 1867 Hungarian coronation is shown Franz Joseph and Elizabeth only have one child, when in reality that had already had three. The oldest child's death is not shown, which greatly contributed to Sissi's collapse. In fact, her first bout with "lung disease" is not included until the final part of the trilogy. Nevertheless, the coronation scenes are intriguing for the Hungarian rituals and customs that are depicted. It is interesting to me that Elizabeth was so intensely attracted to the land which was the birthplace of her patroness St. Elizabeth of Hungary, another princess who married young and had to deal with difficult in-laws.

For those who enjoy stunning cinematic imagery, The Young Empress rivals the first film for lavish sets and costumes, and breathtaking vistas of the alps. The ballroom scene, in which Franz Joseph and Elizabeth swirl to Strauss waltzes, is worth the price of admission in itself. Most of all, Romy Schneider's unforgettable characterization of Elizabeth in all her enchantment and tragic sorrow brings to life a woman who was a legend even when she walked upon the earth.

Elizabeth, Empress of Austria
King and Queen of Hungary
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P. M. Doolan said...

Great post. I enjoyed watching all three films with my three daughters when they were small. We watched stem many times. Now they are bigger and no longer interested - too bad. I wrote about the movie, and in particular Sissi's visits to Zurich, on my blog at:

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, P.M., and thank you for the link!

Julygirl said...

Nothing was spared in re-creating the costumes and pagentry of the era, something our contemporary American sociey has never experienced other than Diana and Charles wedding on TV. I am certain these sort of events brought pride to the ordinary countryman of the day.

May said...

I"m going to link to this splendid series of reviews after you are finished.

lara77 said...

Thanks Elena Maria! I never saw this film but after your review I must see this! Poor Empress Elizabeth dealt with such loss and her death at the hands of a madman anarchist was almost unbearable!

Christina said...

I found to my delight that this movie is available for instant watching on Netflix. I added it to my queue and will watch it soon. I love costume dramas and your recommendations have yet to steer me wrong!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you! I got it through Netflix!

xavier said...

Maria Elena:

You learn something new all the time. I always thought that the movies were in French because I always saw them in that language. They were popular in the early 80s in Quebec because they repeated them often enough in the various French stations. :)

In any case, I do have some questions:

1) How did Sophie save the Hapsburgs? Was it her conduct during the 1848 revolutions or some other event?
2) Why did she find it necessary to drive a wedge between them? And would Helene been better treated by Sophie
3) If Elizabeth was talented with languages, then how come no one thought of having learning Czech and then give her an official capacity? Her charms would've certainly have made the Czechs more loyal


elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Xavier, Archduchess Sophie's conduct during the 1848 revolution saved the throne and the empire. She wanted to maintain her influence with Franz Joseph, which she felt was necessary, and feared that Elizabeth would gain too much influence over her husband. I think what she did had very tragic consequences for all. As for learning Czech, I though that she did learn it, but maybe not. At any rate, the Bohemians were not causing as much trouble as were the Hungarians.

CR Wall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
xavier said...

Maria Elena:
Thanks again. Could you point me to resource analyzing Sophie's conduct during the 1848 revolution?

The Hungarian were troublesome? I always thought that once they gained coequal status with Austrians they were satisfied and were staunch supporters.

Well I'm glad I'm reading the comments, I'm learning some fascinating tidbits


elena maria vidal said...

Xavier, any book on the 1848 Revolutions would discuss this as well as any book on the Habsburgs, such as this one:

As for the Hungarians, the Ausgleich was not until 1867. Before that there were frequent revolts, even in Empress Maria Theresa's time.