WCW: Empress Elisabeth (Sissi)

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Empress Elisabeth of Austria (nicknamed “Sisi” or “Sissi”) became so when she married Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1854. Originally Bavarian royalty, she was known for her beauty, particularly her super long trademark hair. She hated the formality of court life and frequently escaped by traveling. Her son, Crown Prince Rudolf, committed suicide in 1889, which only made things worse. She was assassinated in 1898.

Although I am vaguely familiar with Elisabeth, I admit to never having seen any on-screen portrayals of her — no, not even the hugely famous Sissi movies! — until I recently watched The Crown Prince (2006). That sparked my interest in her, and so I thought I’d track down her representations in film and TV. Now, of course, I need to watch some of these!

Note: There’s also Mayerling (1936) with Gabrielle Dorziat as Elisabeth, but I can’t find any photos of her in that role.

 

Elisabeth of Austria (1931)

A German biopic staring Lil Dagover in the title role.

1931 Elisabeth of Austria

I’m quite impressed!

1931 Elisabeth of Austria

 

The King Steps Out (1936)

An American comedy about Elisabeth (Grace Moore) and Franz Joseph’s (Franchot Tone) courtship, directed by the famed Josef von Sternberg.

1936 The King Steps Out

I’m not sure what her blonde ringlets have to do with Sissi…

1936 The King Steps Out

Ditto.

 

The Eagle With Two Heads (1948)

A French film directed by legendary Jean Cocteau. It’s very loosely based on Elisabeth — basically, a widowed queen (Edwige Feuillère) develops a connection with an anarchist who wants to assassinate her.

1948 The Eagle with Two Heads

Elisabeth’s shoulders need to BREATHE dammit!

1948 The Eagle with Two Heads

Strapless + opera-length gloves = trashy, imho.

 

The Secret of Mayerling (1949)

A French film about Crown Prince Rudolf’s suicide, with Marguerite Jamois as Elisabeth.

1949 The Secret of Mayerling

 

Sissi (1955) / Sissi: The Young Empress (1956) / Sissi: Fateful Years of an Empress (1957)

The most famous adaptations of Elisabeth’s life, and one of the most popular costume films in Germany! They’re pretty shmaltzy from what I’ve heard, but you can check out our full review for more. Romy Schneider stars in all three films.

Sissi (1955)

I always wish they’d darkened her hair, but I’m nitpicking.

Sissi (1955)

Because, mid-century froof!

Sissi, the Young Empress (1956)

All the bling!

Sissi, the Fateful Years of the Empress (1957)

 

Mayerling (1957)

An episode of the TV series Producers’ Showcase about Crown Prince Rudolf’s suicide. Diana Wynyard plays the Empress Elisabeth, Mel Ferrer is Rudolf, and Audrey Hepburn plays Rudolf’s mistress Mary Vetsera.

1957 Mayerling 1957 Mayerling

 

Mayerling (1968)

This time, it’s a feature film about Crown Prince Rudolf’s suicide. Ava Gardner plays Elisabeth, Omar Sharif is Rudolf, and Catherine Deneuve plays Mary Vetsera.

1968 Mayerling

OH AVA.

1968 Mayerling

30 pounds of eye-makeup doesn’t make you look any younger, although hey, nice bustle dress!

1968 Mayerling

 

Ludwig (1973)

A biopic about King Ludwig II of Bavaria, directed by Luchino Visconti. Romy Schneider from Sissi reprises her role as a now-older Elisabeth. The costumes, designed by Italian designer Piero Tosi, look AMAZE-BALLS.

1972 Ludwig

Embroidery! Veil!

1972 Ludwig

The full ensemble.

1972 Ludwig

I WANT THIS DRESS LIKE WHOA

 

Fall of Eagles (1974)

A 13-part BBC miniseries about the ruling dynasties of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia from 1848 to 1919. Diane Keen plays the younger Elisabeth, and Rachel Gurney the older.

1974 Fall of Eagles

I guess if you’re going to wear a tiara, you should wear a TIARA!

1974 Fall of Eagles

 

The Mystery of Oberwald (1981)

An Italian film that is supposedly inspired by Elisabeth’s assassination attempt: a man breaks into a castle in order to try to kill the queen (Monica Vitti).

1981 The Mystery of Oberwald

I’m getting a Barbra Streisand vibe here…

 

Sissi la valse des cœurs (1991)

A French-German film with Vanessa Wagner as Elisabeth.

1991 Sissi la valse des cœurs

In case you needed to Sissi as a platinum blonde?

 

Sissi, l’impératrice rebelle (2004)

A French TV movie about the last five days of Elisabeth’s (Arielle Dombasle) life.

2004 Sissi, l'impératrice rebelle

In case you needed to see Sissi with collagen lips?

2004 Sissi, l'impératrice rebelle

And bangs!

 

The Crown Prince (2006)

A German TV movie about Crown Prince Rudolf’s affair and suicide, with Sandra Ceccarelli as Elisabeth.

2006 The Crown Prince 2006 The Crown Prince

 

Sisi (2009)

A German/Austrian/Italian TV miniseries, with Cristiana Capotondi as Elisabeth.

2009 Sisi

Her hair = <3 <3 <3

2009 Sisi

Big hair makes ANY era better!

2009 Sisi

I’d quite like to see this, just to admire the hair!

 

Ludwig II (2012)

Another biopic focused on Bavarian King Ludwig II, with Hannah Herzsprung as Elisabeth.

2012 Ludwig II

They got the hair, not too sure about the dress.

2012 Ludwig II

Nice stripe layout!

2012 Ludwig II

 

Chanel CC the World (2014)

Imma just let Wikipedia explain:

“In December 2014, to coincide with the presentation of the Pre-Fall 2015 ‘Metier d’arts’ collection by luxury fashion house Chanel, shown in the Schloss Leopoldskron palace, creative director Karl Lagerfeld directed a short film featuring Cara Delevingne as Empress Elisabeth accompanied by Pharrell Williams. During a dream sequence, the duo sing a song written by Williams entitled CC the World, playing on the iconic interlocking logo of the fashion house, the initials of its founder Coco Chanel, as well as the Empress’s nickname ‘Sisi’. Lagerfeld recreated the iconic gown worn by Elisabeth in the portrait by Winterhalter, whilst Pharrell takes on attire similar to Franz Joseph.”

2014 Chanel CC the World

Pull your dress up, Cara.

2014 Chanel CC the World

 

Who’s your favorite Sissi? Okay, who’s your favorite Sissi OTHER than Romy Schneider? ;)

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

29 Responses

  1. Soňa Uhlířová

    I admit i like the 2009 version most. I’ve seen it a hundred times.
    When i was child i watched movies with Romy almost every week, i was so in love with the dress and bling! Now they seems more like fairytale to me…

    Reply
  2. NGB48

    When I was Germany, I was given a private tour of the Sissi Museum by the Curator. She was a fascinating woman! An early feminist, a proponent of rigorous exercise and carefully controlled diet. She was amazingly tiny! I confess to being obsessed with her now and wear replica’s of her famous jewelry seen in so many portraits.

    Reply
  3. Jess

    Admittedly, I’ve never seen a movie depicting the Empress Elisabeth (though the whole Mayerling thing and Rudolf are INSANELY interesting to me), but I must say, none of these really look like what I would have imagined her as in my mind. I always thought that her being a very small woman, and SO thin, almost to the point of anorexia, would be a part of her depiction and I don’t really see that in any of these… But also the fierce independence, too, the whole “I do what I want and I don’t need any shit about it”. Never sticking around in Vienna unless she had to and travelling all the time.
    PS, 30 lbs of eye makeup doesn’t make you look younger, BURN! If anything it kinda makes it worse :P

    Reply
  4. Andrew Schroeder

    L’Aigle à deux têtes is a stunning film with a totally pointless, nonsensical plot. Maybe it’s better as a play. Idk.

    The 2009 miniseries has some lovely costumes but they really leaned into the myth that Franz Josef and Elisabeth had some kind of grand romance. I don’t think any cinematic depiction of her has yet depicted just how neurotic and unhappy she was.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      Not to mention how unhappy she made Franz Josef and pretty much everybody around her. Sometimes I have no patience with Elisabeth, then I remember it wasn’t entirely her fault. Her mental issues were genuine and numerous and caused her a lot of suffering. She cared for Franz Josef as much as she was capable of caring for anybody and did her best to pull herself together and be there for him when he really needed her.

      Reply
      • M.E. Lawrence

        Sounds like a fair summation. According to the one bio I’ve read (Joan Haslip), Elisabeth was adored by all for her beauty, but she was almost certainly also anorectic and possibly bi-polar with it: i.e., fascinating woman, but a terrible choice to be empress.

        The 1936 “Mayerling” is gorgeous, if only because it stars Charles Boyer and has nice production values. I do have the impression most of these royal biopics are tosh: Sisi fell out of love with Franz Josef rather quickly, and Rudolf wasn’t in love with Maria in the first place, but she was willing to die with him and, hey, what more do you want in a girlfriend if you’re a Misunderstood Prince?

        Ava as Sisi for 5 minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6N6dtATR1Y

        Good casting, despite the make-up. I love the hair stars from the portrait. And the way Ava’s bustle twitches back and forth as she exits the ball. I’d much rather hang out with Ava and James than Deneuve and Sharif.

        Reply
      • Aleko

        And her truly ghastly mother-in-law, who had a lot of sway with her son, could have driven anyone nuts.

        Reply
    • Ewa

      It is not a cinematic depiction, but I do recommend the musical “Elisabeth”.

      Reply
  5. IASHM

    Not really Sissi, but kinda-sorta. Emmy Rossum as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera is dressed up to look a lot like her in the Think of Me sequence. (I think. It’s been a while since I saw it.)

    Reply
  6. Susan Pola Staples

    I’ve only seen the Crown Prince and I wasn’t impressed by their Sisi. I’m sticking with Romy in both the trilogy and Ludwig. I wouldn’t mind seeing the 2009 Sisi for the hair alone.

    Reply
  7. Valéria Fernandes Da Silva

    I’ve watched The Fall of Eagles, but curiously, I don’t remember Sissi. :D I was really impressed by Fritz and Vic (Queen Victoria’s daughter) and Patrick Stewart’s Lenin and erased the rest from my mind. But this Sisi (2009) was really interesting. I used all the Italian I’ve learnt, because I did not have any subtitles. Sissi was so beautiful! The actress was really good and there were a lot of other ladies (her mother and sister, her strict and cruel mother in law etc.) <3 But they took off all of her husband facial hair. ^_^ The other movies, I’ve not watched. There was a cartoon about Sissi, it was very famous in my country, Brazil, in the 1990’s. Sissi was blond and the production was animelike, but not an anime.

    Reply
  8. Allison

    I think Fall of Eagles was my first screen introduction of Elisabeth. Not a flick , but I have to give a shout-out to the musical, Elisabeth. It’s a darker, more accurate look at her life and personality. If you like gothic musicals with pretty costumes, there are several productions floating around on youtube.

    Reply
  9. Samantha

    I know that Frock FLICKS focuses on film and tv adaptations but there are some interesting theatrical stage costumes of Empress Elisabeth (Sissi). There is “Elisabeth” a Viennese, German-language musical and even the Japanese “Elisabeth: Rondo of Love and Death” performed by the famous Tokyo Takarazuka Theater in which the performers are all female. Their interpretations of the famous portrait dress are pretty exciting too.

    Reply
    • Ewa

      There were two Viennese productions of “Elisabeth” (with different costumes), a bunch of German ones, my favorite is the one from Essen, a Dutch one, also Finnish, Hungarian, Japanese by Toho Theatre, Japanese by Takarazuka, Swedish, Italian, Korean and even Chinese. Takarazuka’s “Rondo of Love and Death” is basically their own interpretation of Kunze/Levay original.

      Reply
  10. Chiara

    I was surprised that more people didn’t mention Elisabeth the musical (until I saw Samantha’s comment). Granted, its the only Sisi thing I’ve seen recently – my interest in her first took off when I read a Royal Diaries book about her in middle school almost a decade ago.

    I really do recommend watching it as I feel that it has a more accurate portrayal on how she really felt, and I think the full musical is still on YouTube featuring Pia Douwes and Uwe Kroger!

    Reply
  11. Justme

    Is anyone going to talk about lederhosen dude in Eagle With Two Heads? Looking at that second picture makes me feel like i’m walking in on something i was never meant to see.

    Reply
  12. Joselyn Myers

    In the Phantom of the Opera 2004, Christine’s Think of Me dress is a recreation of Sisi’s famous portrait dress and hair.

    Reply
  13. Lexy

    There is also a French-Italian cartoon about her reaaaaaallly romanticized life ( from a random date in her teen years to her wedding day). In it she’s a blonde Mary Sue, travels through Europa, disguises herself as a boy to work on a building place, becomes a circus’s star… And I won’t even mention her clothes to stay polite.

    Reply
  14. Aleko

    The tiara Diane Keen is wearing in Fall of Eagles looks like a posh take on a traditional Russian kokoshnik, especially as it has those dangly bits. in the later 19th century the Romanov ladies had kokoshnik-style tiaras, and the British royal family still have on that was given to Princess Alexandra in 1888, a copy of one owned by her sister, who was Tsaritsa of Russia.
    http://www.thecourtjeweller.com/2017/05/queen-alexandras-kokoshnik-tiara.html

    I wonder if that scene was meant to show Sisi dressed ‘Russian-style’ for some diplomatic occasion? Would make sense, at least, even if not historically accurate.

    Reply
    • Peacoclaur

      She’s wearing a “Hungarian” headdress – partially to show her support for the Hungarian rebels Majlath and Andrassay; and partially to piss her MiL AD Sophie off.

      Reply

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