Directed by Marie Kreutzer.
Starring Vicky Krieps, Florian Teichtmeister, Katharina Lorenz, Jeanne Werner, Alma Hasun, Manuel Rubey, and Colin Morgan.
A fictional account of one year in the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. On Christmas Eve 1877, Elisabeth, once idolized for her beauty, turns 40 and is officially deemed an old woman; she starts trying to maintain her public image.
The life of Elisabeth the Empress of Austria has been well documented on film and television, such as the series Empress currently available on Netflix, and the latest screen depiction of her life is Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage, which takes place in 1878 and is built around the Empress’ 40th birthday with Elisabeth played by Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps. Corsage has been a mainstay of the festival circuit since its premiere in Cannes, also showing in Venice and Toronto, as well as winning and winning the Best Film Award at the London Film Festival.
Corsage feels reminiscent of recent films like The Favourite and Spencer with the protagonist depicted in quite a melancholic and isolated state, cut off from those around her. Much as in those films Elisabeth is seeking to be listened to and not spoken down to by the men around her. While broadly keeping to the facts of Elisabeth’s life we are treated to flirtations with modern items that Elisabeth wouldn’t have encountered like the birth of cinema, heroin and the climatic moments aboard a modern cruise liner. There are also more modern musical accompaniments, with a string version of Marianne Faithful’s’ As Tears Go By a highlight.
Krieps is a delight as Elisabeth, withdrawn and quiet one moment but severe and towering the next. Krieps paints Elisabeth as a woman of many layers, unsure of herself publicly and privately, and constantly fighting against her public image and those nearest to her. Her husband Franz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister) is unfaithful and the less than straightforward relationship of the pair is a clear source of anguish for the Empress. The subtle touches like Elisabeth’s reaction to the death of her favourite horse are incredibly well handled and show Krieps’ range. This is perhaps the best showcase for Krieps since Phantom Thread, and she is a beguiling presence on screen, showing the full depth of Elisabeth and her mental state.
The costume design is exquisite as one might expect with Elisabeth sporting violet gowns, and parasols, smoking violet cigarettes and when out in the public gaze wearing black veils, exuding a sombre melancholic appearance. If not entirely historically accurate Corsage gives the feel of the era and the public and private attitude towards Elisabeth at this stage in her life and a woman fighting to have her voice heard, inwardly raging against the world around her.
Corsage cleverly upends cliches of the period drama and biopic, making this a refreshing watch and one that feels of the moment, distancing itself from the numerous other takes on the period and the subject matter. The focus on this specific point in Elisabeth’s life helps to make it its own beast, away from her later assassination and events that have been depicted endlessly elsewhere.
Corsage is a contemplative, unorthodox biopic of Elisabeth, Empress of Austria, revelling in the lack of constraints placed upon it, to take a deeper dive into her psyche. It is a wonderful showcase for Vicky Krieps who shows her star quality to deliver a unique and memorable take on a woman whose life has been adapted numerous times previously. It is a sumptuous, visually arresting film that takes clever liberties with its period settings to challenge and engage its audience and to help it stand apart from previous takes on Elisabeth’s life.
Corsage may well please fans of The Favourite, The Great and Spencer but is far from derivative of those works.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★