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.
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.
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.
The Secret of Mayerling (1949)
A French film about Crown Prince Rudolf’s suicide, with Marguerite Jamois as Elisabeth.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Sissi la valse des cœurs (1991)
A French-German film with Vanessa Wagner as Elisabeth.
Sissi, l’impératrice rebelle (2004)
A French TV movie about the last five days of Elisabeth’s (Arielle Dombasle) life.
The Crown Prince (2006)
A German TV movie about Crown Prince Rudolf’s affair and suicide, with Sandra Ceccarelli as Elisabeth.
A German/Austrian/Italian TV miniseries, with Cristiana Capotondi as Elisabeth.
Ludwig II (2012)
Another biopic focused on Bavarian King Ludwig II, with Hannah Herzsprung as Elisabeth.
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.”
Who’s your favorite Sissi? Okay, who’s your favorite Sissi OTHER than Romy Schneider? ;)
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…
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
And her truly ghastly mother-in-law, who had a lot of sway with her son, could have driven anyone nuts.
It is not a cinematic depiction, but I do recommend the musical “Elisabeth”.
Try Fall of Eagles She’s in Eps 1 and 4 she was very well portrayed by Diane Keen and Rachel Gurney also we got Pamela Brown as a bitchy Sophia who roasts Sisi every now and then in episode 01
Try Fall of eagles
Can you believe that Ludwig lost to The Sting?
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.)
I’m making that dress right now, it was inspired a lot by the famous painting of Sissi in her wedding dress, with some differences like really time-consuming embroidery and rhinestones over the whole skirt
Tammy, the star dress from the famous portrait of Franz Winterhalter was not Elisabeth’s wedding dress.The diamond star dress (with matching stars in Sissi’s hair) was worn by the empress during one of the courtly galas. I don’t remember now what was the exact occasion for throwing that particular gala.
Now, Sissi’s wedding dress looked like that:
The diamond star dress was not Sissi’s wedding dress. It was worn by her during one of courtly galas.
I also remember a non-sissi Inpired look Vivien Leigh as Anna Karenina when she goes to the ball she’s wearing a dress with cold shoulders and stars in her hair actually why viv never played sissi? Beautiful and Neurotic sounds perfect for her
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.
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.
Is this it?
I have to admit, I grew up watching the Princess Sissi animated series, which was most likely terrible but I was too young to care
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I definitely see what you mean!
In the Phantom of the Opera 2004, Christine’s Think of Me dress is a recreation of Sisi’s famous portrait dress and hair.
I only just remembered but there are plans to adapt Allison Pataki’s Empress Sisi novels for TV – future Snark Week fodder?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Allison Pataki ‘s books are actually really good on historical costuming.
If you decide to make a WCW of Marie Vetsera I would be glad to help I got a list with (I think) all the mayerling films from 1919 to 2006
Also I wanted to recommend an 1956 film with the Mayerling affair with Lil Dagover reprising her Sissi role (at 68!) And still gorgeous and the beautiful and very young Christiane Höbiger as Marie Vetsera (actually 17 Marie’s age when she died) and very decent recreations of the fashions of the day (Marie’s long hair is down only when she’s at the boudoir) the only thing that spoils it is 50 year old Rudolf Prack as Rudolf (The name is Kronprinz Rudolfs letzte liebe/ Crown Prince Rudolf’s last love)
Good News to you Kendra the 2009 Sisi is on YouTube with English Subtitles divided into 6 parts
Oh wow, 6 episodes sounds like a lot of commitment, but those costumes do look good!
Actually that’s a two part miniseries the channel divided the episodes in 3 half hour parts each probably to avoid copyright infringement
Also the same channel posts lots of German Period Dramas (actually that’s the name of the channel) there’s also Sophie sissi’s little sister miniseries about her younger sister if you get interested
(Also Cristiana Capotondi who played Sisi in the 2009 miniseries played roles in quite a few Costume Dramas may you consider her for a WCW?)