Saturday, July 21, 2018

Sissi II, or the 19th century Austrian version of Father's Little Dividend

Last October, TCM ran all three movies in the Sissi trilogy about Austro-Hungarian Empress Sissi and her marrige to Emperor Franz Josef. I've already done a post on the first movie, so today I'll post on the second film, Sissi: The Young Empress.

When we left our characters at the end of the last thrilling episode, Bavarian princess Elisabeth, nicknamed "Sissi (Romy Schneider) had just gotten married to Austrian Emperor Franz Josef (Karlheinz Böhm) after a whirlwind fairytale romance. Franz Josef's mother Sophia (Vilma Degischer) was none too happy about it, since she thinks Sissi is just a kid and too immarture to take on the duties of becoming an empress. Not only that, but Sissi violates all sorts of old protocol by doing things like going out in public! Imaging the chutzpah on that girl! But Sissi and Franz Josef are truly in love.

On the non-romantic side, there's been an uprising in the Hungarian part of the empire, and the Emperor's ministers want to deal rather harshly with the rebels, especially their leader, Count Andrassy. Sissi, however, wants everybody to live in harmony and have the happiness that she has for her husband. So she uses her influence to get Franz Josef to declare an amnesty, something the ministers, and especially Sophia, don't like. Sophia tries to sabotage the relationship with the Hungarians, while Sissi has to try to repair it, which she skillfully does at a court ball.

However, Sissi faints at the ball, and the doctor who is called in determines that there's really nothing wrong with her. She's just pregnant, that's all. Imagine the joyous news. Now Sissi can bear Franz Josef the son he needs to have an emperor heir, because in those old monarchies that didn't have queens/empresses regnant, siring a crown prince was the main duty of a queen consort. Thankfully for Sissi, however, this isn't Anne of the Thousand Days, where Anne Boleyn is absolutely beside herself when she bears Henry VIII yet another daughter. Franz Josef loves Sissi so much that he doesn't care if it's a daughter. (Besides, Austria had had a powerful Empress 100 years earlier in Maria Theresia.)

Nasty meddling Sophie, however, wants to make certain that the girl is raised "properly", by which she means in the ways of palace protocol. It's an understandable desire, since the demands on the daughter of an emperor are going to be much greater than the demands on the daughter of a backwater Bavarian prince. But Sophie and the other ladies-in-waiting could have handled the issue with tact and compromise. No; they just up and one day move the baby's nursery from next to the Empress' rooms to a place closer in the palace to Sophie, and they do it without telling Sissi. Sissi is understandably pissed, but she's so immature she just goes off and runs back to her parents.

It's an issue that could tear apart the marriage, or at least it would lead to divorce in a country like England where their church was specifically founded on the grounds that divorce must be allowed at least for the King. In addition to the marital strife, which really isn't that much since Franz Josef and Sissi really love each other. But there's the whole political problem. The Hungarians have a lot of the loyalty for the dual monarchy that they do because of the actions of Sissi. If word gets out that she and Franz Josef are no longer an item, it's going to cause a serious political rift between Austria and Hungary. But Sissi doesn't want to do her political duties if she can't raise her baby her way.

In watching Sissi: The Young Empress, I found myself having a lot of the same opinions on it that I did on the earlier Sissi. The story is in many ways impossibly romantic, not just in Franz Josef's love for Sissi, but in the way the Hungarians love Sissi. But the storyline is at least a bit better here in that there are some more realistic issues dealing with the whole political crisis and the questions of raising the kid.

None of the actors does anything wrong, although some people may not like the character of Major Böckl, who is brought in to provide comic relief. He gets annoying after a while. The movie, like the first one, also has excellent color cinematography and costume design, which is a huge plus. Overall, the movie is quite good, with the simple and heavy-handed story bringing it down only a bit, and not by any means enough to keep me from highly recommending the movie.

All three movies in the trilogy are in a box set along with a pared down and dubbed into English movie that was released in the early 1960s, and a fifth movie in which Sissi plays English Queen Victoria.

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