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Apparently many of you have written in to ask if we’ll be reviewing The Empress (2022), Netflix’s offering amongst a spate of Empress Elisabeth of Austria/Sissi films and TV series out right about now. And because enough of you have said the costumes are terrible, and because Trystan is a big meanie, she suggested I go ahead and recap this for Snark Week instead of doing my usual thing of asking you what I should review. Now, I already hate mid-19th century (the death of fashion), although thankfully this is set in Europe and not some dusty American small town, but just know that I am cursing you as I watch/write this!
Make sure you’ve read my recap of episode 1!
In a surprisingly beautiful shot, someone is laying on the floor weeping. Turns out to be Franz’s Mom, who’s having some kind of mini-breakdown, but she’s comforted by her lady-in-waiting, who reminds her that It’s Time for Elisabeth’s arrival. Franz’s Mom pulls it together.
Franz’s floozy comes to visit him. He’s all, “Dude, we’re over” and she’s all “but you said you needed me” and he’s all “patriarchy, bitch.”
Franz’s Mom’s head lady-in-waiting — Countess Sophie, but I can already tell these names are going to feel interchangeable — is drill-sergeant-ing Elisabeth’s new ladies-in-waiting. It’s very “you’re new here, here’s how it works,” when wouldn’t they want to give Elisabeth some people with experience?
Elisabeth and family arrive! Elisabeth and Elisabeth’s Mom are dressed like relatively normal mid-19th century people:
Helene, on the other hand, has time-traveled to the 1940s and joined a boogie woogie girls group:
Franz’s Mom is sticking with her postmodern bullshit:
The ladies-in-waiting are dressed like crazytown. The matron is sort of gender-bending, sort of 1960s scifi:
And the rest are wearing shitty blouses with overbust corsets OVER them:
The court ladies start fitting Elisabeth, and there is of course a corset-yanking scene where in Elisabeth is yanked and complains that it’s too tight, and the matron says “then it fits right.” Elisabeth wants to go for a walk to get away, but the ladies insist she be “properly dressed” for it.
Elisabeth wears a blouse and skirt combo that reads better in motion (possible silk taffeta) than it does in stills (poly-cotton broadcloth). All her ladies-in-waiting follow her every move. She gets excited about an exotic bird:
Then runs into Franz’s younger brother, Maximilian, who clearly still has the hots for her.
Various courtiers are arguing about whether Austria should join the war against the Ottomans on the side of the Russians or the English and French. Most are pro-war, Franz says no, he has other plans for the country. He has some whispered conversations with one particular advisor who is clearly very progressive about a secret meeting.
Elisabeth and Franz have a “dance lesson,” which consists of Johann Strauss playing the waltz he’s composed for their wedding while the two dance:
There’s some actual sexual tension, and Elisabeth and Franz run off into a side room to make out, where they’re interrupted by the matron.
One of Elisabeth’s ladies-in-waiting is “Countess Leontine,” the revolutionary we saw at the end of the last episode. How the FUCK did this lady 1) clean up, and 2) get a posting as a lady-in-waiting? She meets with her fellow revolutionary in the garden for a smoke, kiss, and discussion about how they’re trying to smuggle a shoe into the palace.
Elisabeth is surprised to find a doctor, archbishop, and various ladies-in-waiting waiting to examine her for proof of chastity. She’s not into it, even kicking the doctor at one point, but they basically say “no proof, no marriage.” She doesn’t have any vestiges of a hymen, which the Revolutionary Lady-in-Waiting helpfully suggests is due to horseback riding; nonetheless, the doctor and archbishop are convinced of her chastity.
Franz tells off his younger brother Maximilian for ruining two aristocratic sisters; one got pregnant and killed herself, the other jumped off a building had to be institutionalized.
At the evening-before-the-wedding party, Elisabeth is PISSED about the whole hymen check. She’s super snippy to the archbishop, and Elisabeth’s Mom tries to intervene by breaking a glass, but no dice. Franz’s Mom basically says “go to bed.” Elisabeth protests, but then Franz agrees.
Elisabeth is in some stupid asymmetrical 1950s shrug number:
Meanwhile Franz’s Mom is in a “let’s make wrinkles couture” nightmare:
Elisabeth’s Mom is decently dressed by comparison:
Elisabeth goes back to her room, then overhears her ladies discussing that she/they have been invited to a party thrown by Maximilian. Elisabeth decides to be a rebel and go. She wears what I think is a nod to her later love for Hungary and Bohemia, in an embroidered vest, all the Claire’s necklaces, and two Kawaii hair buns on top of her head:
The party is filled with completely ridiculous-for-the-period costumes out of some kind of Edwardian circus-punk world:
Maximilian is dressed like the WORLD’S BIGGEST DOUCHEBAG in a printed satin blouse and PUKA SHELLS. Elisabeth downs some absinthe. Maximilian tells Elisabeth that he thinks she’s better suited for a life like this and tries to put the moves on her; she says no, she’s in love with Franz.
Franz Liszt is there making all the ladies swoon.
Helene hasn’t been speaking to Elisabeth. Elisabeth tries to reconcile, but Helene is having none of it. Maximilian puts the moves on one of the Elisabeth’s ladies-in-waiting.
Franz’s Mom is meaningfully fingering some hair in a locket. The “count of Vasa” is announced, and he’s clearly an old flame … even more clearly, she asks why he came to the wedding, and he asks her if it’s because that’s his son (i.e., Franz) about to get married? She will neither confirm nor deny. She tries to kiss him, he dodges and leaves.
Franz has a secret midnight meeting with an English railroad builder. He wants the builder to create a railroad for Austria in order to connect his realm and bring prosperity, but he doesn’t have enough money. Franz promises to get the money.
It’s wedding day! No one can find Elisabeth — she’s hiding behind a curtain. Helene is there, sends all the ladies away and comforts Elisabeth/reconciles with her.
Elisabeth gets dressed for the wedding (1854) in a two-years-too-early hoopskirt (popularized in 1856) that needs to be hoisted over her with giant hooks:
A corset without chemise:
And a 1950s Dior-style wedding dress.
Her hair is up in braids with a hot-glued diamond loopy thing in front:
Helene channels her inner pain through 1980s goth jewelry and another 1950s asymmetrical shrug:
Franz’s Mom is in something vaguely Victorian with an obi belt:
Elisabeth’s Mom wears her best burnout velvet blouse and 1950s egret fascinator hat:
Elisabeth’s Mom asks Franz’s Mom to “take care of my girl.” Franz’s Mom just looks ominous.
Elisabeth is put into a REALLY cool glass carriage that would get VERY hot very quickly. She and Franz have a moment through the glass, then she’s driven off into scarily enthusiastic crowds.
Stay tuned tomorrow for episode 3, when we’ll look more at the wedding dress!
Glad someone was inspired by her!
oh my god the lady in waiting exposed corsets why why why why
Did they miss a century with Helene? Is that why she’s dressed like a 1960s mod?
Ghod, this is Costume nightmare. Why am I thinking Reign but with less pretty prom dresses? And I LIKED REIGN. This is a travesty.
I give the costumers an F.
And an F for historical accuracy.
I almost did a spit-take when I saw Helene’s hair, and yes I also immediately thought of Debbie from the Addam’s family movie! Some things I can let slide (It may not be the most accurate but I actually really like Sisi’s gold and purple ensemble you mention at the beginning) but I HATE THAT HAIR SO MUCH!!
Also, as mentioned in my Episode 1 comment…GIANT HOUNDSTOOTH PRINT WHYYYY?
Why is she wearing Mickey Mouse ears for her wedding?
What the ……I can’t….
Please, make it stop! It’s horrendous.
I have Helene’s hair – however I was inspired by Sandie Shaw’s haircut during her peak pop idol days in the 1960s. It’s a cute look but not for someone who was alive in the mid-to-late 1800s!
What a nightmare.
Whenever I see Franz’s Mom I think about Elsa Lanchester in “The Frankenstein’s Bride”. That just had to be her hairdo inspiration.
oooog good call!
Did they make her own hair into a tiara for her wedding or does whatever it is on her head just look like braided hair with fake jewels stuck on?
As far as I know, those famous photo with a skirt for a hoop dress being lowered with weird hooks is a satire…
We don’t know what Sisi’s wedding dress looked like, but the embroidered parts were later cut out and used to decorate ecclesiastical garments. And the train survives. So we do know it had very rich silver embroidery and a long (embroidered) train. Neither of which seem to be present here.
Please tell me this is a joke and you photoshopped Helen with her hairstyle in there… Pretty please?
We’re all familiar with impulsively cutting bangs for yourself after a traumatic breakup. Helene took it so hard that even having to time travel 100 years didn’t stop her from doing it!
It was the looks of the ladies-in-waiting that immediately stuck out to me as totally bonkers when I saw the preview of this show. But the rest is pretty shocking too!
It’s just so weird that every now and then there is a costume that’s sort of acceptable, like the Swiss waist one here.
Buried in the Wikipedia article on her is a line that ‘She never wore petticoats or any other “underlinen”, as they added bulk…’ So did they accidentally get something right, in the undressing-with-no-chemise- scene?? And… really? Yuck.
Wow, that’s interesting info, thanks for sharing. Really don’t want to think about how that worked for the real Sisi though…