Maria Theresa (1717-1780) ruled a vast domain in central Europe in her own right: Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands, and Parma. By marriage, she was Duchess of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, and Holy Roman Empress. Her ascendancy to the throne sparked a war in the 1740s.
She was known for making dynastic marriages with her many, many children (she gave birth to 16, 13 of whom survived) including the future Queen Marie Antoinette of France. She’s one of the “enlightened despots” of the 18th century, passing many reforms but maintaining central control of power.
In her later years, she co-ruled with her son, Emperor Joseph II, but she kept the reins of power.
Maria Theresa has been on screen many times — she’s often the focus in German-speaking films and has a bit part in films about Marie Antoinette. Unfortunately, I can’t find images of some of the earlier and more obscure films, but here’s what I could track down!
Julia Serda and Agnes Straub in Fridericus Rex (1922)
A four-part film series about King Friedrich II of Prussia.
Lola Chlud in Der junge Baron Neuhaus (1934)
An adaptation of a stage play about a handsome baron who catches the empress’s disapproving eye. I think.
Alma Kruger in Marie Antoinette (1938)
She sends her daughter off to marry the French dauphin, then worries about her from afar, in this biography of the French queen.
Käthe Dorsch in Trenck, der Pandur (1940)
A fictional take on a famous military officer, “garnished with espionage and twisted love affairs,” per Wikipedia.
Paula Wessely in Maria Theresia (1951)
A big screen biopic.
Marianne Schönauer in Der Kurier der Kaiserin (1971)
A TWENTY SIX part TV series about a courier who works for the empress.
Mária Medgyesi in Vivát, Benyovszky ! (1975)
A Hungarian/Czechoslovakian film about a real-life Hungarian nobleman.
Sylvia Kristel in The Fifth Musketeer (1979)
“When French King Louis XIV (Beau Bridges) learns that his twin brother, Philippe (Beau Bridges), could usurp his crown, he sets out to imprison him in the Bastille prison but four loyal musketeers are protecting Philippe,” says Wikipedia. Why Maria Theresa turns up, I have no idea.
Marianne Schönauer, Ulli Fessl, and Jasmine Chirazzi in Maria Theresia (1980)
What I think is a TV biopic about the empress.
Silvana De Santis in Ferdinando e Carolina (1999)
“On his deathbed in the 1820s, King Ferdinando I of Naples tries to escape the ghosts of his bloody kingship by remembering his younger days when he was allowed to go hunting, have fun, and invent love games. Then he was obliged to marry Maria Carolina of Austria, daughter of Empress Maria Theresa, in a political marriage. They unexpectedly became happy lovers, until court power games divided them and a different historical season arrived,” per Wikipedia.
Henriette Richter-Roehl in Trenck – Zwei Herzen gegen die Krone (2003)
Another story about the military officer who apparently falls in love with one of the empress’s daughters and also does some fancy stuff during the war with Prussia.
Marianne Faithfull in Marie Antoinette (2006)
She’s the ever-chastising mother in this biopic about the French queen.
Yasmina Djaballah in Die Deutschen, Preussens Friedrich und die Kaiserin” (2008)
One episode of what I think is a historical docudrama, this one about the rivalry between Maria Theresa and Prussian King Friedreich II.
Marie-Luise Stockinger and Stefanie Reinsperger in Maria Theresia (2017-19)
A TV miniseries biopic about the empress, which we recapped and reviewed in depth!
Gerti Drassi in Universum History, “Maria Theresia: Majestät und Mutter” (2017)
What I think is another TV docudrama series.
Anne-Céline Pellarini in La Guerre des trônes, la véritable histoire de l’Europe (2021)
A French TV docudrama about the history of Europe from the 100 Years War to the mid-18th century.
Ursula Strauss in Maria Theresia: The Pinnacle of Power (2022)
Technically this is season three of Maria Theresia (2017), but it’s come out long enough after that it feels separate to me!
Marthe Keller in Marie Antoinette (2022)
The empress is the usual doubting mother who attempts to control her daughter, Marie Antoinette, from afar.
What’s your favorite on-screen portrayal of Empress Maria Theresa?
Most of what I know about Maria Theresa comes from reading Nancy Goldstone’s excellent book “In the Shadow of the Empress”. She sounds like a fascinating person, and it would be wonderful if one day a good production could make a biopic about her. In the meantime, I guess I’ll stick to laughing at some of these atrocious wigs lol.
The Maria Theresa in “Fifth Muskateer” must be MT of Spain, Louis XIV’s wife (and cousin).
I was just going to say the same thing!
“A time portal has opened, leading all the aristocratic Maria Theresas throughout history to converge on Versailles right before the wedding of Louis XIV. Will he be able to find his intended bride and save European diplomacy? Will his identical twin brother cause mischief as always? Or will an Austrian interloper win the king’s heart, forcing a choice of whether or not to stay in his own century?”
Yep! Also referred to as MT of Austria (as a Habsburg) though she was Spanish, hence the confusion.
The second image from The Pinnacle of Power screams (to me) “How the Empress Would Look with a Mullet,” and I can’t stop giggling. Like Habsburg Billy Ray Cyrus. Oh Kendra, thank you!
Maria Theresa is still seen regularly in many parts of the world as she is depicted on the high-silver ‘Maria Theresa Thaler’ coin. Still being minted by the Austrian government, the MTT continues in circulation in much of the Arab world and East Africa.
A WCW of Empress Messalina would be so fun :) films featuring her are mostly pornographic nonsense, but it’s camp!
Wait a minute–Beau Bridges played the Sun King? And Marianne Faithfull was Maria Theresa at some point? (Although it’s true her mother was Austro-Hungarian.) I have questions too!
In chorus: They cast BEAU BRIDGES as His Late Majesty King Louis XIV?
What a dark horse that man must me (though really, if he were to he cast as any historic person I’d have suggested Ronald Reagan).
Bruce Campbell in the 2nd season of TV Fargo IS THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE PORTRAYAL OF REAGAN.
Interestingly Ms. Marianne Faithful has the strongest aura of “Absolute Boss” in this selection of Empresses – though honourable mention to the Maria Theresa in mourning weeds from UNIVERSUM HISTORY for having a fine disinheriting look worthy of Queen Victoria at her least amused.
Oh, and I’ll give MARIE ANTOINETTE (2023) this – Emperor Joseph roars in and leaves teeth marks in the fabric of Versailles, compensating for his mother hanging over poor Madame Antoine (and the show) like a bird of ill omen.
Although I dislike the production I think that Marie-Luise Stockinger did a good job in “Maria Theresia”. She was one of the few reasons to see that madness. “Der Kurier der Kaiserin” is the most entertaining series or film about her. It’s comletely silly. You see Marianne Schönauer there only in the opening credits and in the first episode. I suppose that there should be a lot more films including Maria Theresia especially if they are about Frederick II or Mozart.
Documentaries with drama inserts like Universum History or ZDF History have notoriously bad costuming. Whilst the documentaries are often interesting, the absolutely terrible drama scenes, which usually also add nothing to the documentaries, always make me cringe. I would prefer that they were left out if they are so badly made. But I think these channels think their audiences won’t get it if there’s no drama scenes…!