Vicky Krieps shines as a royal with some serious attitude in this hugely entertaining upending of the conventional period drama.
We get less of Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Bavaria, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, and more of Sissi, the monarch’s preferred moniker, in writer-director Marie Kreutzer’s visually striking and slyly subversive drama. It’s 1877. Vienna is beautiful but hardly Europe’s party town, and Sissi is 40 and bored. She’s stuck in a an emotionless, dead-end marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister), her servants seem hell-bent on reducing her waist to an irrelevance between her legs and upper body – the titular piece of underwear comes to represent everything Sissi hates about the world she lives in – and worst of all, no-one, absolutely no-one, wants to have some fun. Well, That’s not good enough and Sissi decides to live her life on her own terms. For as long as she possibly can…
In her richest performance – and best role – since her career breakthrough playing Daniel Day-Lewis’ lover/nemesis in Phantom Thread, Krieps is both a joy and a blast of fresh air, sweeping away the cobwebs of the average period drama performance like a hurricane raging through a town made of straw. It’s a revisionist take on history, as evinced by the smart use of modern songs – best of all a cover of Marianne Faithfull’s As Tears Go By. Kreutzer even pulls off an _Inglorious Basterds_’-style riposte to historical events with her dramatic denouement. This is history shot through with more than a little punkish rebellion and Krieps makes the journey one hell of a ride.