Support Frock Flicks with a small donation! During Snark Week and beyond, we’re grateful for your small, one-time contributions via PayPal or monthly pledges for exclusive content via Patreon to offset the costs of running this site. You can even buy our T-shirts and swag. Think of this like supporting public broadcasting, but with tons of swearing and no tax deductions!
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!
You’e right, I want goth mom’s dress!
Thank you for cheering up my day with the screencaps. I agree that both the history and costumes were really bad. But the horse was pretty. And dumb Hungarians just seems like comic relief.
And funnily enough, if I remember correctly the Hungarians are actually probably the least dumb characters in this whole debacle…
Is that a baby (or a fake baby) or a whorecelain doll in the middle of the child abuse pic?
“whorecelain” – HAHAHHA
Official doll collector’s term. Well, it should be, anyway – I’ve been pushing it for nearly 20 years now, and it’s caught on with quite a few doll collectors. It just sums up that particular genus of shitty mass-produced cheap-ass porcelain doll dressed in enough polyester and pot-scrubber lace to reconstitute a pterodactyl with a “Certificate of Authenticity” to persuade you that Grandma didn’t spend 200 bucks in vain on this undoubted future priceless collectable.
I’ve been staring at the back shot of goth mom’s dress for like ten minutes. I don’t think it’s a center back (mismatched) seam – it looks like a long ass dart! Maybe that’s the reason for the I inexplicable bow – covering a shitty alteration?
Also, thanks for taking one for the team and reviewing this travesty. Your recap is glorious and there’s no way I would have made it ten minutes into this on my own!
In one Austrian newspaper it was written that the budget of the series was 5 million euros and this in such a tone, as if 5 million euros were a big amount of money for a period film :-).
All I know about Maria Theresa is she fought like a tiger for her rights as her father’s successor, bore a ridiculous number of children while very successfully governing her empire, and was very fond of her husband who wasn’t entirely worthy of her.
And those costumes are ugly.
color me shocked that the series seems less than faithful to the history….
I tried to watch this but I couldn’t, the cheap looking white wigs were too distracting. I also read a German language review calling the costumes well made and accurate for the period and I’m still not over that.
All these dresses with clunky sewn-in stomachers, dumpy fit, no corset and trashy sequin applications remind me of costumes for little girls, who want to dress as pretty pretty pink princesses for Halloween/Purim.
Hideous. Hilarious. Hidlarious.
Much as I enjoy this site and have been a visitor for a good couple of years now… I must admit I’m frequently at a loss to understand what is going on. Like, you say that something is wrong but don’t explain why it is wrong. I’m often left to wonder why sewn in stomachers are wrong, why two fabric dresses are wrong, why the bodice is too long when it looks to me pretty short, why pearls at the waistline are allegorical, and how the costumer should have dressed a curvier figure? My expertise is mostly in the ancient world. Can you explain what you mean a bit more, or please link to pages like that metal grommet page? Otherwise, it’s all pretty impenetrable for an outsider.
Absolutely! On Friday I’ll do a review with Actual Research(TM) explaining all those things! Sorry, I know that means things are out of order for you… but it’s coming!
This was a great post! Thank you. So much to snark about, but you and your fans have addressed most of it. I was also taken aback by that doll in the kids’ scene which CLEARLY has that shiny nylon or whatever has been used for hair only in the 20th and 21st centuries. And bisque limbs? I don’t think so.
Wow. Just wow. I mean, look, if you have a lot of high class characters to dress, I expect some shortcuts. But there are so many obviously wrong things that could’ve been done in a way that was less obviously wrong.
The subtitle on the corset back shot in the royal bedchamber says it all—”You should not do this.”
That first picture. Happy hands cotton-ball crafting for the wigs?
The cotton-ball wigs are hilarious!
I wonder, that you did’nt mentioned this stupid Prussian-Austrian plot in more depth. How the son of the ultra Calvinist Frederick William I. of Prussia should marry the daughter of the most prominent catholic ruler in Europe was not explained in this masterpeace. The whole storyline of prince Eugen as the most evil man in Austria is so stupid.
It’s remarkable that not only MT is a complete idiot, who didn’t know anything about the contemporary politics, but Francis is portrayed as the same sort of an idiot. Did anybody told them, that Lorraine was actually a part of the Holy Roman Empire and that exactly at that time, the French invaded Germany (capturing Philippsburg and Kehl)?
Besides the Prussian prince Frederick had to marry the daughter of George II (although this marriage was canceled later).
Did you notice that the Hungarians had very plain clothes and missed many elements of the traditional Hungarian clothing? Indeed I very long searched for a portrait of this count Esterhàzy with a beard, but I could not found any reference, that he ever had a moustache at all.
I would like to read more about the male characters. There is so much going on there! :-D
Even some Major characters got terrible clothes or suits which were embroidered at the front but without embroidery at the back – maybe they did’nt assumed, that the actor can turn around? :-D
I have dreamt of you reviewing this series since I first saw it when it was released. I had been reading your site for some time and I was horrified at the wigs and the costumes and was curious what you would make of them. Now I can finally read it at length. Looking forward to the next part. So dissapointing that when a frock flick is finally produced over here (I am from Slovakia, we used to be part of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy) and it is such a crappy one.
A fellow Slovak lady, yay! Honestly, both the history and (to a lesser extent) costumes are horribly misshapen, which is that much worse, since MT is my favourite historical ruler, period. Not to mention writing and characterization, which just go from bad to worse. I HATE THIS SHOW SO MUCH.
I asked myself (coming from Freiburg, which was one of those minor Austrian capitals at MTs reign) how People from Slowakia and Hungary would think about the outrageous depiction of the Nobility in such a crap.
Besides I was astonished that in an Austrian production prince Eugen, who was an Austrian hero during the 19th and 20th century, was shown as a stupid, plotting old villain.
Although I’m surprised that MT is for somebody in Slowakia a favourite ruler. I thought about her as a competent Monarch. But besides she was very repressive especially to the Protestant people. During her reign the multicultural character of the army (and maybe of her government) changed dramatically.
Nevertheless I’m somehow a fanboy of Bartenstein on my own – just because he was so self-satisfied. It’s laughable, that he was changed in this series to a incapable antagonist of his queen.
Those photos are painful to see. Your commentary on the other hand, is FABULOUS
The dresses. The wigs. The makeup. My eyes are bleeding.
Thank you so much, Kendra; you soar above and beyond, as always. Any theories as to why the production couldn’t or wouldn’t provide corsets? Did the actresses go on strike against them?
But surely the production team and actors must see how extremely unbecoming the costumes and wigs are?! Why even bother to produce something so awful, if it’s not for a parody or something?!