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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!
First, the Sisonscreen Tumblr has a translation of an interview with costume designer Gabrielle Reumer from Vogue Germany. Here’s a few tidbits I enjoyed:
Today it is desired in period dramas that everything is modern and different in terms of film making or production. That is a great undertaking and not easy to do. But you have to adapt a bit to the present and adapt the story for the eyes of today because a lot just doesn’t work anymore. About 1850, women were like furniture. They were adorned, one could say decorated, so you look at them. The most important thing was that it was a lot. Actually this is unbearable, the women were like dolls. At this time, the crinolines, a kind of hoop skirt, were like a sphere and gave the women this doll likeness. But this didn’t fit the story of Sisi for me, this woman, that emancipated herself and freed herself from the oppression and power plays. So I asked myself how could one dress women more dynamically. So I changed the shape of the crinolines towards something that came into fashion in the 1870s: flat in the front and a bit elliptical in the back. I used this shapes for Sisi and Sophie.
Vogue: So did you also see the originals clothes of Empress Elisabeth?
Reumer: Yes, at Schönbrunn, but I found them awful. Everything was so tacky. I’m usually very minimalistic when it comes to my costumes.
Vogue: Then why did you agree to be the costume designer after all?
Reumer: At the beginning, I wondered what I was actually doing here. But the I viewed it as a challenge. There are also very nice great from this time. The men’s clothing is awesome with its frock-coats from great materials and high tophats. It is crazy what one can do with shapes.
Me, reading Vogue‘s last question:
This episode focuses entirely on the wedding day and night, so there’s not a lot of costume changes. We begin with a whole lot of dimly-lit shots of Elisabeth in her wedding dress, waiting around, walking down the aisle, and at the ceremony:
She walks outside the church to be presented to the cheering crowds and we can finally see what the hell she’s wearing:
So how does it compare to the real wedding dress of Empress Elisabeth of Austria? On the one hand, we don’t really know! According to Palaces of Europe, no clear images of the wedding survive, and definitely no photos! This is the best we’ve got:
One part of the actual gown does survive, and that’s the train, which appears to be satin and is is richly embroidered with gold and silver:
So what do we get instead of an actual 1850s-style wedding dress? A beautifully made, but completely 1950s-style, gown:
At one point she goes outside, and the neckline changes a bit:
Most of the other key characters are wearing what they were in the last shot of episode 2, like:
Luckily, Franz’s ex-floozy shows up to BRING THE DRAMA in a LUDICROUSLY ugly dress:
Franz’s younger brother Maximilian gets her into the wedding, just to stir shit up. He’s pissy about not getting to shag Elisabeth and also clearly wants to replace his brother as emperor. Ex-Floozy watchdogs Elisabeth throughout, enough that Elisabeth asks Franz who she is. He denies knowing her. Eventually various ladies-in-waiting let spill that she’s Franz’s ex-mistress. Elisabeth gets upset because Franz ditches her and ludicrously manages to lose all her ladies-in-waiting and wander around on her own. She has a tense meeting with Ex-Floozy in a STUNNINGLY pretty room, finds her dad outside drunk and as a result sends her family away, including Helene — who she first informed everyone would be the new head of her household, but she reconsiders.
The ladies-in-waiting get new special dresses for the reception:
Another sub-plot not worth screencapping because again, it’s all the same outfits, is that matron is pissy because Elisabeth wants to replace her with Helene. She complains to Franz’s Mom, who is busy reconnecting with her ex-boyfriend the Count of Vasa. She basically confirms to him that Franz is his son, getting on her knees in what I thought was going to be an Our Son Just Got Hitched Blowjob but no dice. Vasa asks Franz’s Mom to run away with him, she prevaricates, he snarks that she’s always been more into the royal family than him. Vasa runs into Franz in the hallway, introduces himself, and the two have a moment. Later the matron tries to comfort Franz’s Mom in a way that implies maybe the two have been sexual in the past; Franz’s Mom rebuffs her.
Back at the start, the reception kicks things off with various courtiers performing a dance for the newly married couple. It starts with some badly dressed extras waltzing, and then TURNS INTO SOME KIND OF POSTMODERN OVERWROUGHT BULLSHIT:
It’s worth watching just to see HOW BAD IT IS:
After this Franz ditches Elisabeth to go negotiate his railroad. At first the elders of the banking family say no, but Greasy Son slimes in later to say yes because Franz’s Ex-Floozy has talked him into it as a means of inserting herself into the equation. Meanwhile, Russian troops are at the border and everyone is pressuring Franz to mobilize. The French ambassador gets offended that Franz won’t come into the war on the French/British side.
Elisabeth is hurt and pissed and even interrupts one of the meetings to say she needs to talk to Franz. He says no, hence all her wandering mentioned above. Finally the night is over and they are both dressed for The Act (Elisabeth, hilariously: “I can’t take this nightgown off or I will go to hell”). She tells Franz off, he says sorry, and he won’t do it again, instead of explaining that sometimes the country needs to come before her/his personal life, which seems like a bad setup.
The two shag on the floor in front of the fire. And we’re done with episode 3!
Stay tuned tomorrow for episode 4!