Prince Harry’s not the only royal making headlines . More than a century after her death, Empress Elisabeth of Austria is enjoying an unprecedented pop culture moment. She’s the subject of hit Netflix series The Empress , which was renewed for a second season last autumn, and two new films: Sisi & I , due later this spring, and IFC Films’ Corsage (now in theatres), which stars Vicky Krieps ( Phantom Thread ) and was shortlisted for the best international feature film Oscar. Who was she? And why is she everywhere? We talk to Krieps and Hadley Meares, a historical journalist, to find out more about the reluctant royal. Who was Empress Elisabeth of Austria? Elisabeth, nicknamed Sisi, was just 16 when she was married, against her will, to Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria in 1854. Beloved for her compassion toward the sick and poor, she also fought for the rights of the people of Hungary, which was part of her husband’s empire. But privately, Sisi struggled with mental illness as well as grief following the deaths of her son and sister. She was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in 1898 at age 60, after 44 years on the throne. 18 of the British royal family’s best winter fashion looks Corsage shows Sisi’s attempts to buck palace tradition by smoking, swimming, fencing and horseback riding – all activities that were considered “unladylike”. It was that spirit of rebellion that drew Krieps to Sisi as a teenager, when she first read a biography of the monarch. Even then, “I could feel there was something much darker and more melancholy behind what I was reading,” Krieps says. “My parents raised me so freely, and then the minute you go to school, people tell you what not to do and how to behave. This painful experience of society trying to fit you into something connected me to her pain.” How were Sisi and Princess Diana alike? Besides their humanitarian efforts, there are “enormous parallels between Sisi and Princess Diana ”, Meares says. “They were both these teenage brides: very upset on their wedding day and very unsure of their roles. They were not given the support they needed from their various royal families, and both suffered from forms of disordered eating.” And like Diana, who was killed in a car accident in 1997 at 36, Sisi was known for her great beauty. “She was one of the first real modern celebrities,” Meares says. “Her very long hair, her tiny waist … her fashions were all copied in books and magazines for women, and were all breathlessly reported in newspapers.” Because of all the attention, Sisi became obsessed with her physical appearance and image, knowing that she was seen as a “ circus sideshow ”. 4 engagement ring trends to know for 2023, from colourful to lab-grown bands “Sisi is such a good example of somebody who not only was trapped by those conventions of beauty, but also internalised them,” Meares says. “She’s really an interesting person when you think about the gender dynamics that we’re still grappling with to this day, and how much damage patriarchy and misogyny and the male gaze has done to women over the centuries.” Why is she having a pop culture moment right now? Along with the latest trio of screen depictions, Sisi has been the subject of countless books, operas, plays and films. Ava Gardner and Omar Sharif starred in 1968 drama Mayerling , about Elisabeth and the Austrian monarchy. And in 2014, Cara Delevingne channelled the ruler in a short film for Chanel. Most famously, actress Romy Schneider starred as a young empress in the Sissi film trilogy in the late 1950s, before playing her again in 1973’s Ludwig . In the latter, “she portrayed a much more realistic version of Sisi”, Meares says. “She finally got to play her not only as this charming nymph, but more as who she really was: a deeply troubled woman who wrote beautiful poetry and had real ideals and was forever wandering this Earth searching for something she could never really find. Sisi got an anchor tattooed on her arm when she was 51, which was unheard of for any ‘proper’ woman of the time.” Sisi was perfectly imperfect, Krieps says, which is why she continues to captivate and inspire. 5 royal beauty and wellness secrets, revealed – from bee facials to sun creams “Sometimes as artists, you’re able to channel something that is in the air of the time,” Krieps says. “I think now, women are trying to emancipate themselves and show themselves in their vulnerability. That’s why people are so drawn to Sisi: she was very much a woman trying to get out on her own terms . And we need strong women who have flaws and are human, and still are able to lead the way.” Want more stories like this? Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .