TBT: Things I Learned Watching The Crown Prince (2006)


So I was noodling around Amazon as you do, and came across The Crown Prince, a 2006 Austrian TV movie about Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria (1858-89), son of Empress Sissi (ok and Franz Joseph I of Austria) and who famously killed himself in what has become known as The Mayerling Affair. Shockingly, I didn’t know much of anything about him or his suicide, despite it showing up in numerous films, and the little I could see didn’t look too shlocky, so I fired it up.

German actor Max von Thun plays Rudolf, Klaus Maria Brandauer (La Révolution françaiseOut of Africa) is Emperor Franz Joseph, Sandra Ceccarelli is Empress Sissi, and Vittoria Puccini plays Rudolf’s eventual lover, Mary Vetsera. The costumes were designed by Ulrike Fessler and Margit Salzinger, both of whom have done lots of German-language productions that I’ve never heard of.

First, the real peeps:

Portrait of Crown Prince Rudolph (1858-1889) by Eugen Felix, before 1889, via Wikimedia Commons.

Carl Pietzner, Franz Joseph I of Austria and Hungary, 1885, via Wikimedia Commons

His dad, Franz Joseph I of Austria and Hungary by Carl Pietzner, 1885, via Wikimedia Commons.

Kaiserin Elisabeth von Österreich, nee Duchess in Bavaria via Flickr

His mom, Empress Elisabeth aka Kaiserin Elisabeth von Österreich, nee Duchess in Bavaria via Flickr.

Baroness Mary Vetsera died 1889, circa 1887, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Bildarchiv Austria

His lover, Baroness Mary Vetsera died 1889, circa 1887, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Bildarchiv Austria.

Now, I could write a long, thoughtful review of this piece of semi-fluff, or I could just boil it down into the Things I Learned. Guess which method wins?


Things I Learned Watching The Crown Prince

1. Rudolf Went Through Some Bad Facial Hair Periods

2006 The Crown Prince

There’s good mutton chops, and then there’s bad mutton chops.


2. Rudolf Disguised Himself, Fell in Love With a Commoner

I have no idea if this is totally true or totally made up, but basically, Rudolf goes out to rub shoulders with the peeps and falls in love. She dies. It gives him a sad.

2006 The Crown Prince

“Look I’m wearing a Newsies cap, I must be down with the peeps!”


3. Rudolf Shagged a Baroness, Then Shagged Her Daughter, Didn’t Think This Was a Problem

In the 1870s, according to this film, Rudolf gets it on with Hélène, Baroness von Vetsera. 10 years later, he hooks up with her daughter, and doesn’t seem to see anything weird about this. Mom is only semi-miffed.

2006 The Crown Prince

Baronesse Hélène.

2006 The Crown Prince

I like this skirt, I question the Edwardian blouse.

2006 The Crown Prince

Sneaking into her daughter’s affairs while wearing a hairpiece, as one does.


4. Mary Vetsera Was a Limp Napkin

People, I have NO IDEA why Rudolf was in love with her, at least in this film. She’s blonde, she’s young, she decides she’s in love with him and poof! he’s in love with her. She has no personality other than Being a Teenager in Love, Stamping Her Foot A Lot. No I won’t marry the Portuguese aristocrat, you can’t make me! I wanna shag the married crown prince who has venereal diseases!

2006 The Crown Prince

She meets Rudolf at a ball and basically sends him a note the next day telling him she LURVES HIM.

2006 The Crown Prince

Honestly it’s kind of stalker-y.

2006 The Crown Prince

She forces him to introduce her to his parents in front of the whole court.

2006 The Crown Prince

And is VERY “ooooo RUDOLF you’re so SMART and WONDERFUL,” which I guess some men are suckers for?

2006 The Crown Prince

Her wardrobe is decent.

2006 The Crown Prince
2006 The Crown Prince

The sex scenes involve a lot of slow-mo hair flipping.


5. Omar Sharif Was Still Alive as of 2015.

Who knew? In a throwback to his role as Rudolf in 1968’s Mayerling, Sharif plays painter Hans Canon, who tutors? Rudolf.

2006 The Crown Prince

Telling Rudolf the Ways of the World.


6. Empress Elisabeth Was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl; Had a Semi-Crap Wardrobe

She’s constantly urging Rudolf to make bad choices, all while wearing questionable Simplicity-pattern based stuff like:

2006 The Crown Prince

It’s not HORRIBLE, but it’s not great either.

2006 The Crown Prince

Questionable fabric choices.

2006 The Crown Prince

Sari fabric alert!

2006 The Crown Prince

The only dress I thought was tasteful.

2006 The Crown Prince

Not so sure about the close-up.


7. There Was No Difference in Fashion Between the 1870s and 1880s

Me watching episode 1: okay, this isn’t too bad! Me watching episode 2: it’s at least 10 years later and the fashions look exactly the same. Unfortunately it was hard to track down images from the earlier episode. It’s all fine, some of it’s good, they just clearly didn’t have the budget to fine tune the stylistic differences.

2006 The Crown Prince

Hey I love the parasol!

2006 The Crown Prince

Nice dresses on extras.

2006 The Crown Prince

Princess Stephanie (left) looks good.

2006 The Crown Prince

Stripes are always a good thing!


8. Having Gonorrhea Makes You Cough

Rudolf hangs out in brothels a lot, and eventually shacks up with a prostitute. He gets gonorrhea, we’re told, and gives it to his wife (Stephanie of Belgium) rendering her infertile after having one daughter. It’s implied that the gonorrhea is Causing His Decline, but the way he shows it is through lots of portentous coughing. Which, really?

2006 The Crown Prince

There’s a LOT of Man Time(TM) in Hooor Houses.

2006 The Crown Prince

Especially when spending time with the future German Kaiser Wilhelm, who apparently had Short Man Syndrome.

2006 The Crown Prince

He even brings a whore home to live with!


9. Rudolf Killed Himself Because Nobody Understood Him

Especially his father, but also his wife.

2006 The Crown Prince

That must be Stephanie’s mom, far right, in the Clunkity Clunk Clunk dress.

2006 The Crown Prince

You gave her STDs and made her infertile! I think she has some reason to dislike you!


Have you given The Crown Prince a whirl?


About the author



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.

28 Responses

  1. the StoryEnthusiast

    This is one that is on my watch list.

  2. Terézia Marková

    The thing is, actual prince Rudolph was never in love with Mary Vetsera. He was just kind of a manwhore who shacked with Mary because, well, that’s what you do when you’re a manwhore. She was kind of an emo teenager, head over heels in love with him, and when he told her he’s planning a suicide, her first instinct was “How am I supposed to live without my tru wuw?! I will kill myself too! Better yet, we will commit suicide together! It will be so romantic!” And he just said yes, probably because killing himself for love sounds way better than committing suicide because you feel like sore loser who will never achieve anything. He had many, many reasons for that, basically boiling down to the fact that his frequent alcohol and drug abuse, as well as venerial diseases ensured he will never outlive his father, who held him as far away from any meaningful activities as possible. There was never any chance for Rudolph to actually make anything of his life, which probably would not be long anyway, so…

    • Kendra

      Ok, then it makes sense that Mary is a nitwit in this, and that there’s no real basis for their love!

      • Sarah

        The historical sources all seem to indicate that she WAS a nitwit (even taking the misogyny of the writers into account), but she was a pushy, melodramatic, impulsive nitwit, whose behavior appalled everyone, even her very permissive mother. I suppose the fact that they made her a limp noodle is no worse than the fact that they made her tall, blonde and slender.

        • Aleko

          In ‘Black Lamb and Grey Falcon’, Rebecca West dismissed Mary in these possibly-unfair-but-wonderfully crushing terms:

          ‘. . .on January the thirtieth, 1889, Rudolf was found
          dead in his shooting-box at Mayerling beside the body of a girl of seventeen named Marie Vetsera. This event still remains a mystery. Marie Vetsera had been his mistress for a year and it is usually supposed that he and she had agreed to die together because Franz Josef had demanded they should part. But this is very hard to believe. Marie Vetsera was a very fat and plain little girl, bouncing with a vulgar ardour stimulated by improper French novels, which had already led her into an affair with an English officer in Egypt ; and it seems unlikely that Rudolf, who was a man of many love-affairs, should have thought
          her of supreme value after a year’s possession, particularly considering that he had spent the night before he went to Mayerling with an actress to whom he had long been attached. It would seem much more probable that he had taken his life or (which is possible if his farewell notes were forged) been murdered as a
          result of troubles arising from his political opinions.’

          The actress West refers to was called Mitzi Kaspar. Rudolf had actually asked her to commit suicide with him, but she thought (or thought best to pretend to think) that he was joking. So it seems that Rudolf just wanted company and was prepared to shoot himself along with whatever woman would go along with it.

          • Working Mom Having It All

            OK, I’ve half-assedly intended to read Black Lamb And Grey Falcon for years. This cements it. Headed to Overdrive immediately…

  3. ladylavinia1932

    I hope that the actual narrative is good, because I’m not that impressed by the costumes or the production designs.

    • Andrew Schroeder

      It’s not. This movie is boring as hell.

  4. mmcquown

    The story has been filmed at least twice in English in 1936 and 1965 and there was a TV version in between. If Shakespeare hadn’t already used the title, it could have been called “Much Ado About Nothing.” (Which they could have done anyway, since there’s no copyright on titles. Somehow, I have managed not to see any version of it.

  5. Nzie

    I’m not an expert on European monarchs, but how has this story been made into a movie a bunch of times? There are much more interesting ones that don’t get nearly that much attention, and where, you know, the central character isn’t such an awful person. (Was there anything redeemable about him? Like, my takeaway is a lack of good judgment or any self-restraint, a great deal of selfishness, and bad facial hair.)

    • Patrick

      Well I guess because this case was so unique and so shocking at the time. The only son of the Emperor kills himself (an act, thats totally against the catholic Religion) and not only that, he killed someone before it – so he’s both a murderer and a self murderer.
      Here in Austria ist still something of a big thing. The hunting lodge has been transformed in a convent, where the nuns still are praying for the Crown Prince (and Mary Vetsera). The Habsburg Family till this day, does not say what really happened in that night before Rudolf was found dead. It all is still a mystery, speculation and theory.

      And film makers seem to like the ‘tragic. romantic lovestory’ they try to sell us. Even if it his highly likely that it wasn’t anything like that

  6. Susan Pola Staples

    I too have seen it. Meh.

    What I seem to remember from my Austro-Hungarian History, Rudolf was a somewhat progressive and his father the Emperor was the opposite. Also Dad didn’t delegate any meaningful responsibility to him so he could prepare for ruling. Kinda like Bertie and Victoria but without the VD.

    I prefer the Sisi movies and Visconti’s Ludwig which has Amazeballs in costumes. They were either by Piero Tosi or Danilo Donati but I cannot remember.

    • Emma chagny

      Yes. Mary Vetsera was half – Greek, and she was an accomplished horsewoman and loved fashion. Rudolf never slept with her mother; they probably confused her with Rudolf’s former mistress Countess Larisch, his cousin and his mother’s niece.

      Also, the Mayerling ballet is better than this.

  7. Sarah

    I’ve never heard a better description of Sissi than a manic pixie dream girl.

  8. Roxana

    Is garbage. Rudolf may have enjoyed slumming in the red lifht districts but he certainly never mixed with the commons.
    Is based on more or less contemporary gossip. An even better story was that it was Franz Josef who had the affair with Helene and fathered Marie. There’s no good reason to believe either story.
    I have a very nasty theory about Rudy’s motive for getting involved with little Marie. Intercourse with a virgin was believed to be a cure for STDs. Of course the cure failed.
    Elisabeth pretty much ignored Rudy, along with her husband. It is unlikely that she gave him any advice, good or bad. What she did give him was her genes and her various mental problems.
    Gonorhea was just the begining of Rudy’s health problems which included alcoholism and drug addiction by the time of his suicide.
    He committed suicide because he didn’t have the courage to go on living. He murdered Marie Vetsera because he didn’t have the guts to die alone.

    • Aleko

      I don’t think your theory holds water, on two grounds. One, that whatever his many failings Rudolf was an advanced intellectual (one of the things that alienated him from his father, who definitely wasn’t), with a particular interest in natural sciences; he would have been unlikely to buy into such an old superstition. Two, that Mary’s character and reputation were such that despite her youth when the affair started, nobody seems to have taken the view that he had necessarily ‘seduced a pure young girl’.

      I forgot to say in my earlier post that Rudolf had also at one time asked his wife to join him in a suicide pact! – basically, he asked everyone till he found someone who would agree.

      • Roxana

        Mary was smeared after her death. Turned into a teenaged mata Hari and blamed for seducing Rudy. If her reputation was that bad before she wouldn’t have been circulating in high society in the first place.
        Rudy was intelligent, he would have made a good scientist and been a much happier man if he’d been born in a lower class but he was also a very sick and desperate man and one’s intellect tends to fail under such circumstances.
        Still you could be right.
        And yes he asked at least two women that we know of to die with him. Suicide had obviously been in his mind for a long time.
        Sickeningly it took him some eight hours to work up the nerve to shoot himself after killing little Marie Vetsera.

        • Patrick

          Not even that, at first she was even blamed of killing him with poisonQ The Vetseras were badly treated by the public and the imperial family. We don’t know it for certain, it is said that Helene tryed to catch Rudolphs attention in his younger years, but nothing more is known about it. She was trying to marry off her daughters well and to make some Impression in the high society, nothing to blame her for. Mary’s reputation was a good one, she was considered as a beauty in her days (maybe more because of her very feminine figure and exotic looks, than actually being beautiful).
          I think some historians were also pretty mean – she was only a 17 years old teenager, madly in love with her crush and willing to die with him. I guess anyone who had a crush on a star in his/her teen years, can sympathize with her.

          I would say she has been used by the Crown Prince for his need to find someone to die with him. As you said, Roxana, he had been trying to find a partner for the last act for quite some time. He found it in Mary.

          • Roxana

            There was a desperate desire to exonerate Rudy from the double sin of murder and suicide hence the villificatuon of his victim and his long suffering wife. Not to mention assorted ridiculous conspiracy theories that all fall down on the simple fact that any one of them is a better story for Rudy’s reputation than murder suicide. The only possible reason for accepting that story is because it was the bitter truth.

        • Emma chagny

          I agree with this. Mary Vetsera actually, after she became his mistress, hoped he might divorce his wife and marry her.

  9. Charity

    I read “Hooor” and you ladies screeching that on the Mary Queen of Scots podcast came into my head, and I burst out laughing.

  10. Roxana

    It makes me furious how the contemporary accounts blame Princess Stephanie, another of Rudolf’s vitims, for his miserable death. In fact Stephanie was the only person who tried to help Rudolf, the Emperor was mired in the Valley of Denial, and Elisabeth was blissfully unaware and uninterested. Stephanie’s idea was to get Rudolf away from Vienna and his drug suppliers and bad company. Franz Josef refused to see the need and of course Rudy didn’t want to go.

  11. ladylavinia1932

    “Oh, yeah, there was a 1957 version with Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn.”

    You must be referring to the television episode of “Producers Showcase” that aired in 1957. I forgot about that.

  12. Roxana

    I remember the Omar Sharif movie very well. The costumes seemed very beautiful to me but looking back I suspect they were more 1960s than 1880s. I remember absolutely enormous hair.

  13. Jose

    Mayerling was made in a bunch of films radio theater opera even ballet and the fact is that I don’t understand why I love the character of Marie Vetsera but GOOD GOD that story is boring as hell and especially this version when the exchanged Marie’s and Stephanie’s features for one another’s that’s ridiculous even if I usually enjoy Vittoria Puccini

  14. Corinna

    There is an excellent Austrian movie called “Mayerling” or “Kronprinz Rudolfs letzte Liebe” from 1956 with Rudolf Prack as Rudolf and Christiane Hörbiger as Mary Vetsera. It has fabulous costumes!