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Starting with our second Snark Week, I’ve picked a shitty frock flick to recap, because I love sharing the blow-by-blows with you. This year, I asked you to choose what film/series I should recap, and the clear winner was Maria Theresia (2017- ). This is an Austrian-Czech miniseries about Empress Maria Theresa, Holy Roman Empress and empress/queen of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands, and Parma, beginning in 1741 and reigning through 1780. The series had two (LONG) episodes in 2017, two more in 2019, and apparently a further two more are planned. I’ll recap the four existing episodes this week, and on Friday I’ll do some actual research and talk about what the production got right, and where they messed up, in the costumes.
Let’s get to it!
Maria Theresia: Episode 1
We begin in 1723 with the future Emperor Francis I, then Duke of Lorraine, flirting it up with a bunch of back-laced, ugly-capped chix. Clearly this guy was not made for monogamy:
Meanwhile, a very young Maria Theresa is being given dance lessons along with her younger sister, Maria Anna. Maria Theresa can’t (won’t?) dance, which involves her collapsing on the floor.
In a Portentous Moment, Francis comes over and tells her she CAN dance, lifting her up in either an anachronistic 16th c. volta or a Dirty Dancing trust fall, you tell me:
We cut to 1732, and Maria Theresa’s father, Charles VI, is desperately trying to father a son with his wife, Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. This involves doctors, priests, attendants, and the hauling in of fancy artistic pornography in order to get Chuck in the mood. (Note: Charles and Elisabeth did have a male child, Leopold, but he died at age 7 months).
Various courtiers scheme about whether the queen, at her advanced age of 41 and having drunk a lot of booze “for medicinal purposes,” can still have children. Maria Theresa is the current heir, but whoever she marries, it is expected, will be the real ruler — unless the emperor/empress can have a son. However, the empress proclaims that MT shouldn’t be taught anything about politics, as all she needs to do is be a wife.
Maria Theresa is hanging with her nondescript younger sister, Maria Anna. Francis, that Duke of Lorraine, is coming to visit, and it’s been planned for years she’ll marry him. She’s all stressed that her dresses aren’t revealing enough, since Francis is FRENCH and they’re so much more fashionable, showing her sister French fashion plates that won’t be published for about 40+ years. She literally takes scissors to her gown’s neckline lace (called a “tucker” in the 19th century; Trystan’s famous quote: “nobody’s gonna fuck her if she’s wearing a tucker”). Her governess/lady-in-waiting shows up with a supposedly more fabulous dress, and governess and sister are charmed while Maria Theresa acts slutty into the mirror, pushing up her boobs and making kissy faces.
At a formal court lunch, Francis is going to be serving Maria Theresa. MT and her sister sing some opera, and she and Francis exchange Serious Glances. He starts whispering semi-scandalous nothings in her ear, and she gets flustered and jumps up from the table. Apparently no one has heard of court etiquette in Vienna.
A lady-in-waiting grabs Francis and takes him into a room where MT is suddenly IN HER UNDERWEAR and super excited to see him, telling him she loves him and she’s missed him. Francis is uncomfortable, governess catches them and sends him away.
MT is doing some kind of horse-riding recital in what appears to be the famous Spanish Riding School (you know, the Lipizzaner horses). Francis is beckoned by the king, but some Evil Courtier (Eugen of Savoy) gets in the way.
At some point (I think after others have left?), Francis and MT have A Moment and dance in the riding school.
Meanwhile, Evil Courtier breaks it to Chuck that his wife can’t have any more children, which is apparently a complete shock to Chuck, who clearly knows nothing about reproduction, aging, or anything else.
Emperor Chuck decides that MT SHOULDN’T marry Francis now that he’s realized she’ll need to succeed him, because Francis isn’t strong enough. Francis hatches a plan to elope with MT, which she’s down for, but then she gets caught. Francis is booted back to Lorraine.
A new plot is hatched by Evil Courtier to marry MT to the crown prince of Prussia. MT refuses, and is rude to the Prussian ambassador at a formal court meal. Everyone is wearing exactly the same shit, so I don’t screencap it, except for this gem:
There’s discussion about MT having to enter a convent and let her sister succeed. Some Guy grabs MT and offers to tutor her in politics, so she can elbow her way back into things. She agrees, and there are multiple scenes of her studying the European political situation while pretending to be doing needlework with her sister.
Some Hungarians come to court, and the Political Tutor Guy seems to think this is a good time to do some kind of check-in with the Hungarians about the Pragmatic Sanction, by which Chuck negotiated the support of various European powers for one of his daughters to inherit the throne. MT shows up to greet the Hungarians, drops a bunch of secret papers, and is discovered to be Learning Politics. Dad and Mom are PISSED.
MT has to make a formal apology to her dad in front of the court, but she uses it as an opportunity to show off her political knowledge. She proposes that she get to marry Francis, but that he give up his duchy of Lorraine to the French in return for their support, and then be given the duchy of Tuscany instead. Dad is impressed and says he’ll consider it.
Francis is invited back to court and shows up with his mother, Mademoiselle de Chartres. The marriage arrangement is proposed, but Mademoiselle de Chartres is having none of it because she knows the Austrians just want Francis to be a figurehead. Francis is down until he learns he has to give up Lorraine.
MT, however, is still down to marry Francis, and agrees that if her parents have a male son, she’ll give up her place in the succession. No one in this family has ANY table manners.
Francis chats with Maria Anna, and implies that maybe he should have married her. She starts catching The Feels, carrying around a portrait of him.
Chuck ambushes Francis and Mlle de Chartres, sticking Francis into a painting with MT. Francis is reluctant, giving MT a sad.
MT learns that Evil Courtier (Eugen of Savoy) was going to “sell her” in marriage to Prussia. She has a pissed, and yells at him on his deathbed.
MT cries to her sister. Maybe Francis just doesn’t want to marry her?
Maria Anna brings Francis to the library, where she and MT’s political tutor explain The European Political Situation to Francis.
There’s a formal meal for the Empress’s birthday. The portrait of MT and Francis is presented to the Empress, and there’s a pregnant pause as Francis is supposed to propose to MT, but we’re not sure if he’ll actually do it. Francis proposes!
The wedding happens! MT and Francis seem surprised that there are bells ringing and crowds cheering — um, isn’t that par for the course?
The wedding night occurs! MT shows her actual hair for the first time! MT and Francis can’t WAIT to tear off their clothes, and they shag so hard they literally destroy the bed, and it is ludicrous. The emperor is fetched and lectures them about being more statesmanlike.
Aaaand we cut to immediate childbirth! MT has been in labor for two days, and Francis is having none of these “barbaric” Austrian customs like a birthing chair. He brings in a French daughter and carries MT to bed, where she immediately pops out a baby girl.
MT has a SECOND girl, and bitchy courtiers are bitchy about it.
To avoid the bitchy courtiers, MT and Francis go to Tuscany — it’s now 1740 — where Francis plans to revolutionize the textile industry and MT abuses her children with wigs.
Just as MT says she wishes she could stop time, an Austrian courtier arrives and announces the emperor is dead. DUN DUN DUN!!
Stay tuned for another episode each day until Friday, when I’ll do an Actual Research review!