DRAMA; 1hr 53min (German with subtitles)

STARRING: Vicky Krieps, Florian Teichtmeister

Smokin’: Krieps

Turning age 40 in 1877, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Phantom Thread ’s Krieps, blazing a sensational trail) is bored silly with her superficial royal status. Sniped at and speculated about by clueless stuffed shirts, trapped in a ceremonial marriage (to Teichtmeister’s snippy Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria), Elisabeth is both aeons ahead of the oppressive age in which she lives and weight-obsessed to the nth degree as she herself ages. Gorgeous, rebellious, fabulous and tragic, she is miles too out-there for anybody’s good — not least of all her own. “At the age of 40, person begins to disperse and fade,” she decides in a voice-over of defeatist thoughts that make a lot more sense when you consider that 40 is the life expectancy of the majority of her female subjects, shudder.


Her malaise doesn’t end at court: wherever she travels, Elisabeth packs a side order of discontent. After what should have been a restorative trip to visit her sister (Lilly Marie Tschörtner) on the Isle of Wight devolves into yet more gossip, a behavioural rebuke from her judgmental son (Aaron Friesz) and the bitter blow of a dead horse, she returns to Vienna more disenchanted than before, sigh.


Plushly showcased and divinely lit, writer-director Marie Kreutzer’s slant on female history is a paradox of beauty as entrapment. Laced into her frenemy corset, smothered by a scary mane of hair and dismissed as an ornament by her useless husband, Elisabeth is a conflagration waiting to happen in a drama that melds off-centre facts with poignant fiction (and was cursed in its own, repugnantly contemporary turn by the charging of Teichtmeister in 2023 with possession of child pornography). Elisabeth’s refusal to bow down beneath a weight of expectations would still be a radical act today. In a fishbowl of appearances, it was a declaration of war.