New Netflix period drama details teen who married an Emperor

Tragic Empress getting ‘The Crown’ treatment: Story of Sissi of Austria who lost her first child in infancy, her second in a murder-suicide and her sister in a fire before being murdered is to be brought to life in a new Netflix drama

  • New Neflix show The Empress to follow in footsteps of The Crown as royal drama
  • Six part series will document the life of Sissi, born Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria 
  • Royal married Emperor of Austria-Hungary when she was just sixteen-years-old
  • Domineering mother-in-law Princess Sophie made Sissi’s life incredibly difficult  
  • Meanwhile brother-in-law becomes enamoured with both Sissi and the throne

An Austrian Empress who lost her first child in infancy, her second in a murder-suicide and her sister to an accidental fire before being assassinated by an Italian anarchist has become the inspiration for a new Netflix series. 

The Empress will chart the life of the Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria, known as Sissi, who was the Empress of Austria for the latter half of the 19th century after marrying Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary as a teenager.

Starring German actress Devrim Lingnau in the main role, the six-part series will delve into the royal’s devastating life – from her controlling mother-in-law, the tragic deaths of her loved ones to her murder in 1898, with an anarchist stabbing her in her heart. 

It will also show how fitness fanatic Sissi was obsessed with her looks, having been dubbed the ‘loveliest woman in Europe’ at the age of 38. She performed 20 pull-ups every morning, before being laced into corsets to achieve a 19-inch waist and spent her days horse riding or hiking. 

As well as her veal face-mask, Sisi bathed in goats’ milk, reduced stomach bloating by drinking five salted egg whites, and washed her admired locks in eggs and cognac. 

Against the backdrop of jealousy, intrigue and power struggles behind the scenes of the Habsburg court, the makers of the historical drama, which will air next June, no doubt hope the series will be as successful as The Crown. 

Netflix has announced a six-part series The Empress, which will document the life of the Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria, who was the Empress of Austria for the latter half of the 19th century 

Sissi was made the Empress of Austria for the latter half of the 19th century after marrying Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary as a teenager (pictured, with Franz Joseph) 

Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Queen of Hungary by marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph I, was born into the royal Bavarian House of Wittelsbach.

Nicknamed Sisi (also Sissi), she enjoyed an informal upbringing before marrying Emperor Franz Joseph I at the age of sixteen.

The marriage thrust her into the much more formal Habsburg court life, for which she was unprepared and which she found uncongenial.

The Empress who was ‘ intelligent, passionate and rebellious’: Netflix series aims to tell the moving story of Sissi for a contemporary audience 

With filming set to begin shortly, the series will chart Sissi’s life from her teenage years onwards, when she first met Franz.

Showrunner Katharina Eyssen said she and her co-writers Bernd Lange and Jana Nandzik are thrilled about the production, saying: ‘The Empress offers us the chance to tell the moving story of Empress Elisabeth for a contemporary audience.

‘According to a modern image of women. Devrim is not only a highly talented, multi-faceted actress, but for me embodies this very woman: intelligent, passionate, rebellious.

‘Philip Froissant, for his part, will make of the role of Franz Joseph something we have not seen before: An ambivalent and fascinating ruler whose conflicts are more topical than ever.’

Early in the marriage she was at odds with her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie, who took over the rearing of Elisabeth’s daughters, one of whom, Sophie, died in infancy. 

Sophie had intended Franz to marry Sissi’s elder sister Helene. However, he fell in love with Sissi at first sight after spending time with both the girls.

The birth of the heir apparent, Crown Prince Rudolf, improved the Empress’ standing at court, but her health suffered under the strain, and she would often visit Hungary for its more relaxed environment.

She came to develop a deep kinship with Hungary, and helped to bring about the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867.

The death of her only son and his mistress Mary Vetsera in a murder–suicide at his hunting lodge at Mayerling in 1889 was a blow from which Elisabeth never recovered. She withdrew from court duties and travelled widely, unaccompanied by her family.

In 1890, she had a palace built on the Greek Island of Corfu that she visited often. The palace, Achilleion, featuring an elaborate mythological motif, served as a refuge.

She was obsessively concerned with maintaining her youthful figure and beauty, which were already legendary during her lifetime. Elisabeth was, at 38, dubbed the ‘loveliest woman in Europe.’  

She was a fitness fanatic and performed 20 pull-ups every morning on gymnastic rings. Afterwards, she’d be laced into corsets to achieve a 19in waist, and spent her days riding to hounds or hiking. 

As well as her veal face-mask, Sisi bathed in goats’ milk, reduced stomach bloating by drinking five salted egg whites, and washed her admired locks in eggs and cognac. 

Photographs of her in her 40s and 50s show she was still astonishingly beautiful, with enviable flowing locks.  

The series, which will star German actress Devrim Lingnau (pictured) in the main role, will document her marriage as a teenager to husband Emperor Franz Joseph


The series will likely document the challenges Sissi faced in the royal court, from jealousy to her challenges to adapt to her new life (left, and right, actress Devrim)

Meanwhile the programme is also likely to document her obsessive beauty routine, which became legendary during her lifetime

In 1897, her sister, Duchess Sophie in Bavaria, died in an accidental fire at the ‘Bazar de la Charité’ in Paris. 

Meanwhile, while travelling in Geneva in 1898, she was mortally wounded by an Italian anarchist named Luigi Lucheni, who stabbed her in the heart. 

Lucheni originally planned to kill the Duke of Orléans; but the Pretender to France’s throne had left Geneva earlier for the Valais.

Failing to find him, the assassin selected Elisabeth when a Geneva newspaper revealed that the elegant woman travelling under the pseudonym of ‘Countess of Hohenems’ was the Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

When Franz Joseph received the telegram informing him of Elisabeth’s death, his first fear was that she had committed suicide. It was only when a later message arrived, detailing the assassination, that he was relieved of that notion. 

Photographs of her – in her 40s and 50s – show she remained astonishingly beautiful throughout her life

Sissi’s life was famously portrayed in a film of the same name in the 50s, with the titular character played by Romy Schneider (above)

Sissi’s life was famously portrayed in a film of the same name in the 50s, with the titular character played by Romy Schneider.

Filming took place at the Habsburgs’s seats of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna and the Kaiserville near Salzburg, with the movies later becoming one of the most successful German-language productions in history. 

Eva van Leeuwen, Manager Local Originals for Netflix, said: ‘We are immensely pleased to be able to retell the story of this dazzling and much-loved figure – with all the complexity that made up the empress – and thus to delight both an audience that will rediscover Sisi as well as the fans of the cult films from the 1950s.

‘Hardly any other historical figure possesses so much fascination and charisma – even beyond the borders of Austria and Germany.

‘We can’t imagine a better team in front of and behind the camera to tell the story of Sisi and Franz and the Habsburg court for Netflix.’

Expected launch of the new Netflix Original is spring 2022.

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