Sunday, 8 January 2017
Sissi the Young Empress (5 Stars)
This is the second film in the Sissi trilogy. It was made in 1956, one year after the first film. "Sissi" ended with Princess Elisabeth of Bavaria, nicknamed Sissi by her parents, marrying Emperor Franz Josef of Austria on April 24th 1854. "Sissi the Young Empress" begins four weeks later, with the couple living together in the royal palace in Vienna. There was no honeymoon. Franz Josef is much too busy with ruling his country to take time away from the palace. Sissi complains about being neglected, and she compensates by buying a large number of parrots.
Unlike the first film, "Sissi the Young Empress" departs from the historical facts by putting them out of chronological order. First I'll describe the plot as shown in the film.
Sissi was only 16 when she got married, so Franz Josef's mother Sophie considered her to be a child who still needed to be educated. The main subjects of her education were languages (Hungarian and Croatian) and court etiquette. She soon developed a love for Hungary, so she enjoyed learning the language, but she hated the other subjects. At the time Hungary was ruled by Austria, but there were tensions because an independence war had failed in 1948. Sissi made no secret of her love for Hungary, which gained her popularity with the Hungarian people. Franz Josef offered an amnesty to all Hungarian political prisoners, against the recommendation of his mother and his ministers. This was his own decision, but many gave the credit to Sissi.
Sissi had her first daughter on March 5th 1855, named Sophie after her grandmother. Soon after the birth the baby was taken away because Franz Josef's mother considered Sissi incapable of looking after a child at the age of 17. Sissi was so distressed that she ran away from the palace and returned to her parents in Bavaria. Franz Josef went in person to win her back. Together they travelled to Tirol. Pretending to be common people they spent a few days in a guest house in the mountains. This holiday was a replacement for the honeymoon that they had missed a year earlier. Franz Josef promised to give Sissi back her daughter when they returned to Vienna.
Back in Vienna preparations were being made for Franz Josef and Sissi to be crowned King and Queen of Hungary. Franz Josef's mother used this as an excuse to keep Sissi's daughter away, saying that Sissi would be too busy to look after a child. Sissi threatened to refuse the crown of Hungary, which would have led to another war, since the Hungarians wanted Sissi as their monarch more than Franz Josef. At the last minute the baby was returned. The film ends with Franz Josef and Sissi being crowned in Hungary. Sissi wins over the crowd by holding a speech in Hungarian.
As you can see from the above summary, two themes are interwoven: Sissi's first child and the reconciliation of Austria and Hungary. In actual fact, these events happened years apart. The amnesty for Hungarian political prisoners wasn't given in 1854, as the film portrays it, but in 1866. The film suggests that Sissi became Queen of Hungary in 1855, a few months after the birth of her daughter, but the date of her coronation was actually June 8th 1867.
There's something I forgot to mention in my review of the first Sissi film. Sissi's mother, Duchess Ludovika of Bavaria, is played by Magda Schneider. She was well known as Adolf Hitler's favourite actress, but she's also the mother of Romy Schneider, the actress who plays Sissi.
I admit that this is a girly film, but who cares? Female emotions aren't something inferior to be ashamed of. This is a true story -- almost -- but it has the magic of a fairy tale with kings and queens and emperors and empresses, a magical world where a teenage girl can wield great power. It's a world I would like to live in.
After watching "Sissi" last month I spent some time researching the lives of Franz Josef and Sissi. I've come to the conclusion that Franz Josef is an example of monarchy at its best. He was born on August 18th 1830, and he became Emperor of Austria on December 2nd 1848 after the abdication of his uncle. He reigned for 68 years until his death on November 21st 1916. He was greatly loved by his people. There was peace for the first 45 years of his reign, followed by a series of wars caused by aggression from Prussia and Russia, and finally the First World War. Nevertheless, he was a man of peace all his life. He always preferred to forgive rather than punish his enemies. If all monarchs were as good as Franz Josef we wouldn't need democracy.