Sisi-mania: first royal celebrity celebrated in cinemas and on Netflix | Austria

She has been described as a Habsburg popstar, the first royal celebrity, the first example of a body-shamed woman by the media and a long-undiscovered feminist icon of the 19th century.

Elisabeth, Empress of Austria, lives again in the modern age with two new theatrical films, two television series, including a Netflix biopic, as well as a novel.

The latest of these, Corsage, released in German cinemas on Thursday after its Cannes premiere in May, shocked some critics by moving away from the traditionally romantic image of the empress towards a darker psychological study. Her sufferings under the restrictions of court life are embodied in the title. Scenes described as “painful to watch” show Sisi, played by Vicky Krieps, strapped to her tiny corset and insisting that her servants, whose hands are raw from trying, tighten it even more. Opening on her 40th birthday in 1877, as she struggles to keep up with the expectation that she must remain forever young – fed a diet of orange slices and beef broth – the film ends by a seemingly shocking scene, which critics say is worthy of Quentin Tarantino.

The television series Sisi, meanwhile, is a grim portrait of her tumultuous marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph and her brutal exploitation at the hands of the Habsburgs as a pretty figurehead who saw in her only a producer of a suitable heir to the throne. Received favorably so far, he caused a stir with his candid portrayal of his sexuality.

Dark portrait: Sisi. Photo: RTL+

Sisi, as she was better known, was portrayed in a wildly popular 1950s TV trilogy by German-Austrian actress Romy Schneider. Schneider later also starred as a more mature princess in a 1972 film by Luchino Visconti about her close friend, the gay and eccentric King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The actress later complained, “Sissi sticks to me like oatmeal.”

Bavarian princess before being identified as a suitable future bride for Franz Joseph and married to him at the age of 16, producing four children, before being murdered at the age of 60 by an Italian anarchist, Sisi balked at the restrictions of Habsburg court life. Dominique Devenport, who stars in the series Sisi, which airs on RTL+ in Germany, said the character “works” as a relatable figure due to her strong female narration. “She asks the questions people are asking today,” she told German media. “How can I stay true to myself, what decisions do I have to make, how do I meet everyone’s expectations of me?

Netflix series The Empress is due out in the fall and is expected to join rivals in helping fuel new interest in the aristocrat, who predictably enough has been widely compared to the late Princess Diana. Parallels have been drawn between Corsage, directed by Austrian filmmaker Marie Kreutzer, and director Pablo Larrain’s 2021 historical fiction drama, Spencer, about the tortured life of Diana.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung praised Kreutzer for subverting the sweet image of Sisi, showing her masturbating in the bath, smoking, fingering courtiers, taking heroin to calm her nerves and calling her husband an asshole. . “Kreuzter produced shock therapy,” wrote his reviewer. He congratulates her for having “liberated” Sissi from a “romyschneiderisation, which Romy Schneider herself would have been the first to approve”.

A novel by Karen Duve, to be published in September, should flesh out another side of her character: a radiant hunter and dressage rider. Duve described Sisi as an “unknown feminist icon”.

“She asks the questions that people are asking today”: a photo shoot on the set of Sisi. Photo: RTL+

The Hofburg and Schönbrunn palaces in Vienna, where Sisi resided, have long been powerful tourist magnets for those looking to follow in her footsteps. Her exercise rings and pommel horse, on which she is said to have practiced excessively daily, are among the main attractions, while her face adorns everything from boxes of chocolates to opera glasses. Sisi’s story recently proved a box office success in the German-speaking world as the musical, Elisabeth, which reached an audience of 10 million viewers between 1992 and 2019, but never hit the big screen. English scene. It produced a particularly strong cult following in Japan, where it was staged.

But Austrian commentator Hans Rauscher said the repeated retelling of Sisi’s story had a more sinister appeal. On the surface, he writes in Der Standard, it’s “the fascination of a beautiful young woman, the empress of a European imperium”, but in reality, he says, it’s the story a bit more daily life of “a distraught teenager who, at 16, married her annoying pedantic cousin, who infected her with an STD”. Describing the new takes as “spicier, but just as indigestible” than Romy’s depictions Schneider, he suggests that interest in Sisi has a lot to do with the characteristics she has displayed and with which Austrians identify. “depressive, valuing obedience above freedom, neurotic” which, he says, “perhaps explains the cult of Sisi.”