For almost 170 years, Empress Elisabeth of Austria has captured the imaginations of people from around the world. In the Sissi cult trilogy (1955-1957), Romy Schneider stepped into her breakout role as the most romanticized royal in film history. When Sissi was released in 1955, it overtook the Hollywood legend Gone with the Wind at the box office
This fall, Netflix shows the young woman’s inner turmoil and her rebellion, as Empress, against the corset of courtly convention.
When rebellious Elisabeth (Sisi) meets Franz, the young Emperor of Austria, it’s love at first sight. But their ecstatic and impetuous relationship causes chaos in the Habsburg dynasty and upsets the balance of power. After the wedding, the young Empress has to find her place in a totally foreign world while standing her ground against her overbearing mother-in-law Sophie who, until now, had always been the most powerful woman in the Viennese Court.
Meanwhile, Elisabeth’s feelings are put to the test by Maximilian, the second-in-line who lives perpetually in his brother’s shadow. Hostile troops gather at the borders of the Habsburg Empire and revolution is in the air in Vienna. Elisabeth needs to learn who she can trust and the price she must pay for being the Empress and a symbol of hope for an entire nation.
19 FACTS ABOUT THE NETFLIX SERIES THE EMPRESS
Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie von Wittelsbach was born on December 24th, 1837, in Munich, Germany, into an offshoot of the Bavarian royal family. She enjoyed a relatively untroubled free-spirited upbringing. In 1854, at the age of 16, she married Austrian emperor Franz Joseph (24).
The Empress gave birth to three daughters and a son. She died in Geneva, Switzerland, at the age of 60, when she was killed by an Italian anarchist.
Elisabeth is played by Devrim Lingnau, a 24-year-old German actress from Mannheim. She had heard about the Sissi trilogy with Romy Schneider, but she had never seen it. Devrims mother is German, her father Turkish. That’s the reason why she was given a Turkish name (Devrim means renewal, revolution). She had a leading role in Carmilla and played in Borgia and various German TV series.
Franz is played by Philip Froissant (28), a German actor who holds a university degree in science. His father is French. Philip started his acting career with a leading role in the Netflix drama Black Island (2021).
Princess Sophie of Bavaria, the mother of Emperor Franz Josef, is played by Melika Foroutan, a German-Iranian actress. She played a very religious Iranian mother who searches for her lost son in Greece in the critically acclaimed film Pari, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2020.
The Empress is a German film production, Katharina Eyssen (39) is the head author and showrunner. She started working with Netflix in 2019 with the drama series Zeit der Geheimnisse (English title: Holiday Secrets). “Sissi was neither sweet nor innocent like Romy Schneider in the 1950s trilogy,” Eyssen says. “Elisabeth had strong creative power, courage and dreams. Nevertheless, she had to fight not only enemies from outside, but also internal demons.”
The Empress is based on historical facts, the production team was assisted by a renowned historian in Vienna. Nevertheless, showrunner Katharina Eyssen took some creative liberties, creating for instance the character Leontine, Elisabeth’s lady of the court, which did not exist. While Elisabeth fights for her individual freedom, Leontine personifies the fight of the Austrian people.
Gabriela Reumer, head of costume design, visited Elisabeth’s residences in Vienna (Hofburg, Schönbrunn Palace, hunting lodge) to study the wardrobe of the empress. In an interview with Vogue Germany, the Swiss costume designer said that she opted for a more modern interpretation of the women’s costumes – less fabric, less voluminous crinolines, less colours (e. g. no red).
A team of 30 tailors created 2000 costumes for the series. (If you love costumes, check out our haute couture articles and videos).
Many uniforms were rented from Lambert Hofer, a company specialized in costumes for film, theatre and TV. Some costumes for the extras were used in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, a film that was shot in Cinecittà in Rome.
Some visual elements, like Helene’s bob hairstyle or Maximilian’s earring, are not historical facts. They were included as modern elements.
In one scene, Sophie Esterhazy says to Elisabeth: “An empress wears a pair of shoes only once. Afterwards, they are thrown away.” And Elisabeth replies: “What a waste.”
Elisabeth and Franz Joseph were the leaders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the second biggest empire in Europe and the third largest in the world in the second half of the 19th century. They reigned over 56 million people.
The cast had an intense etiquette coaching. The actresses and actors had to learn how and when to make a curtsy, how to sit at a table and how to greet a lady with a hand-kiss. The writers also had to learn who had the right to talk first at court.
Maximilian is played by Johannes Nussbaum, a 27-year-old Austrian actor. He got his first film role at the age of nine and received his first award as best actor for his role as a teenager diamond thief in Diamantenfieber (2013). In 2019, he became a member of the prestigious Residence Theatre in Munich, which can be compared to the Comédie Française in Paris.
The Empress was directed by two German film directors, the 39-year-old Katrin Gebbe (episodes 1, 2 and 5) and the 43-year-old Florian Cossen (Episodes 3, 4 and 6). “In each scene, the eyes, the mouth and the costumes speak,” says Cossen. “There are several film languages that interact and influence the suspense.”
The Empress was not shot at the Palace Schönbrunn, the summer royal residence in Vienna, but at the Weissenstein Castle in Pommersfelden, Bavaria.
Part of the locations for the series were also the New Palace (Neues Schloss) and the Hermitage Palace in Bayreuth, the Fantaisie Castle in Eckersdorf, the Friesenhausen Castle in Aidhausen and the Faber-Castell Castle in Stein.
The wedding scene was shot at the late Gothic St. Georg Church in Dinkelsbühl (Bavaria). The real wedding was celebrated at the Augustinian Church in Vienna on 24 April 1854.
Season 2 of The Empress hasn’t been confirmed yet, but given the huge international success of the series, which is already number two in the global Netflix charts, it is most likely that a few more seasons will be produced.
THE EMPRESS CAST CELEBRATES THE LAUNCH OF THE SHOW
A journey through imperial history – for the launch of the new German series The Empress, Netflix hosted a spectacular soirée in the Great Orangery at Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin on 23 September 2022.
SISSI TRAILER (1955)
THE EMPRESS BEHIND THE SCENES
WHO WAS EMPRESS ELISABETH OF AUSTRIA AND HUNGARY?
SCHÖNBRUNN PALACE, ELISABETH’S SUMMER RESIDENCE IN VIENNA
THE EMPRESS – INTERVIEW WITH THE LEADING ACTORS
If you liked our article The Empress Who Fought Demons, read our latest articles about films and series.
Photos and video: Courtesy of Netflix