The search for a show to match Bridgerton in its gripping romance, captivating characters and jaw-dropping costumes is over. Netflix’s newly released “The Empress” provides what is perhaps an even more binge-worthy watch than Shondaland’s popular series. That is, if you don’t mind reading subtitles.
“The Empress,” or “Die Kaiserin” in its original German, is a historical drama based on a true story about Elisabeth “Sisi” von Wittelsbach, Princess of Bavaria and her journey becoming Empress of Austria.
The show begins with young Sisi (Devrim Lingnau) hiding behind a curtain while her mother searches for her as one of her suitors is set to arrive within minutes. Sisi doesn’t want to marry just any man, but a man who “satisfies (her) soul,” she tells the little sister who discovered her hiding spot. And find him she does.
Shortly after, Sisi and her older sister Helene (Elisa Schlott) travel from Bavaria to Vienna so Helene can meet and become engaged to Emperor Franz Joseph (Philip Froissant). Franz ends up falling for the “wrong” sister. Following a shocking proposal, Sisi — who insists she be called Elisabeth — agrees to become the Empress of Austria.
Her new role, she discovers soon enough, does not always include sweet moments with her beloved husband or exciting imperial escapades. Elisabeth must confront the social unrest in her empire, the burden of providing the next heir to the throne and the hostility of her mother-in-law.
Even though it follows many romantic tropes and is based on a true story, “The Empress” constantly keeps its audience guessing. It is not the kind of show that viewers keep watching because they know what is going to happen, but rather because they have no idea what comes next and cannot possibly wait to find out. They keep asking themselves whether Franz will win his internal battle to satisfy his wife’s needs over his mother’s. They yearn to know the extent of Franz’s brother Archduke Maximillan’s enamorment with Elisabeth. And they are constantly terrified that the struggling Austrian people will succeed in revolting against the couple.
Beyond its deep relationships and multi-faceted characters, something many shows in this genre lack, “The Empress” is extremely pleasing to the eye. Its depictions of the Habsburg court and palaces such as Schönbrunn make more popular courts like Versailles appear tacky. The costumes provide a modern take on historical clothing and might make one think twice about wearing a corset.
Season one of “The Empress” only sheds light on the beginning of Empress Elisabeth’s reign, beginning when she married Franz Joseph in 1854. While there is no news yet about the show being renewed for a second season, producers would have much to pull from Sisi’s life. From the death of her only son, to her obsession with weight and beauty, to her assassination in 1898.
“The Empress” has something for everyone: a whirlwind romance, sibling rivalries, Habsburg court gossip and a burgeoning social rebellion. If you want to put your German to the test, wish to perfect your subtitle-reading skills or merely love basking in a beautiful show, “The Empress” should be next on your list.