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Corsage - Everything You Need To Know

With Pablo Larraín's "Spencer," Baz Luhrmann's "Elvis," and Andrew Dominik's "Blonde," the genre of historical fiction has been getting a real workout at the movies for the past couple of years. That's especially true for films where directors are getting imaginative with their portrayals of iconic real-life figures.

In that vein, there's "Corsage," which had its limited release in U.S. theaters on December 23, 2022. Interestingly, the historical figure getting the artistic license treatment here isn't one that most Americans are familiar with. The film focuses on Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie of Bavaria — also known as Empress Elisabeth of Austria or even by her nickname, Sisi. She's one of the most fascinating and eccentric monarchs to have ever lived.

Raised in a relatively informal atmosphere in the Bavarian countryside and thrust begrudgingly by marriage into the obligations of regal life, Elisabeth became famous all over Europe, both for her ravishing beauty and her unyielding refusal to conform to the expectations placed upon women by aristocratic society. Drawing from historical records and pure poetic imagination, "Corsage" is a fascinating film, and here's everything you need to know about the movie.

What is the plot of Corsage?

"Corsage" is a historical drama film with a real-life major figure from Austrian history at its center, but it wouldn't be quite 100% accurate to describe it as a biopic. According to writer and director Marie Kreutzer, the film takes a relatively liberal approach to the life and times of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, with some plot elements being real and some being fictional. In Kreutzer's own words, "I find it interesting to move within facts, but then take what I needed and just forget the other stuff" (via The Upcoming).

Be that as it may, the story of "Corsage" follows Elisabeth in Bavaria — whose tenure as Austrian empress lasted between 1854 and 1898 — throughout one particularly momentous year in her life: 1878, the year after she turned 40. Reduced to a political role of little consequence and faced with the increasing pressures placed on her, her body, and her image as a newly "old" woman in the dollhouse of monarchy, Elisabeth embarks on a journey of personal rediscovery while trying to maintain her commitment to her duties, all with the movements of late-19th-century Austro-Hungarian history as the backdrop. Inspired by the famously off-kilter spirit of its protagonist, the film doesn't conform to the stuffy typical formulas of historical biopics, instead letting Elisabeth's exploration of a new chapter in her life take the action in dashing, surprising, and often riotously comedic directions, complete with occasional "Marie Antoinette"-esque anachronisms (per Variety).

Who stars in Corsage?

It's only natural that "Corsage" should largely function as a showcase for the actress playing Elisabeth of Austria, but that becomes even more of a given when you factor in the fact that the actress in question is Vicky Krieps.

Born in Luxembourg, Krieps has been active as an actress since 2008 and didn't take long to start appearing in films and on television series both American and European, with the 2014 German dramedy "The Chambermaid Lynn" having arguably been her first breakthrough in the Old Continent. But it was with 2017's "Phantom Thread," directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and co-starring Daniel Day-Lewis, that Krieps really announced herself to international audiences and captured the attention of filmmakers the world over. Her performance as the film's de-facto protagonist, the love-ridden and doggedly determined Alma Elson, became an immediate cinephile sensation, earning her endless praise and numerous awards. Since then, she's also crossed over into the Hollywood mainstream with films such as "Old" and "Beckett," but it was about time her transfixing charisma got its due in a proper star vehicle — which is just what "Corsage" is.

In addition to Krieps, "Corsage" also stars Florian Teichtmeister as Elisabeth's husband, Emperor Franz Joseph I, along with several other German, Austrian, and French actors — plus the Northern Irish Colin Morgan, who may be better known by English-speaking audiences due to his roles as Merlin on BBC One's "Merlin" and Leo Elster on Channel 4's "Humans."

Who directed Corsage?

"Corsage" is directed by Austrian filmmaker Marie Kreutzer, who also wrote the screenplay. It's her fifth feature film and her second to gain significant international attention. In 2019, she also made waves around the world as the director of "The Ground Beneath My Feet," a gripping psychological thriller about a hypercompetent business consultant whose life begins to unravel dramatically (via The Hollywood Reporter).

In interviews, Kreutzer has cited the complex character of Elisabeth of Austria as the main reason she was drawn to "Corsage" as a project. As she told Women and Hollywood, "When reading the biographies, letters, diaries, and so on, of Elisabeth, I sensed that her silent rebellion is a recurrent theme in her life. ... She was a smoker when smoking was regarded as bad behavior for a woman, did not touch any food when forced to sit at official dinners, traveled the world whenever she could flea Vienna, built her own sports equipment, and went on extensive hikes or horse rides when being sporty or fit was not modern or important for anyone. She certainly lived in a golden cage and tried to expand her position's boundaries as far as she could."

Kreutzer has also described the film's unique comedic tone as having come naturally to her, telling Cineuropa, "I think that most of my films are a mixture of heavy scenes and lighter scenes. I did a comedy once. But even in my very serious films, I like to create some laughter, too."

How are critics and audiences responding to Corsage?

According to an IndieWire poll of 165 critics, "Corsage" was the 47th best movie of 2022, and the numbers on Rotten Tomatoes back that up. Based on 83 reviews, the movie currently has a critical score of 89%, with many singling out Vicky Krieps' performance. As Paul Whitington of the Irish Independent put it, "Krieps is sensational in the lead role, playing Sisi as a ball of nerves, but also a single-minded and cultivated woman who's no longer prepared to conform to blind convention."

Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times also sang the film's praises for its reinvention of tired old tropes, writing, "Overall, 'Corsage' shows a tantalizing way forward for the hopelessly staid biopic genre: honoring, provoking and upending with verve and humor as it liberates a complex woman from iconography's deadening glamor." On the more negative side of things, Kelly Vance of East Bay Express wrote, "'Corsage' is neither humorous nor cruel enough to take the empress' midlife crisis to the next level. Eventually, it quietly runs out of gas and is over."

As for audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently has an audience approval rating of 64% based on fewer than 50 reviews. On that note, the film only played in a tiny handful of U.S. theaters, bringing its current domestic cume to around $38,000. But if you factor international audiences into things, that brings the box office total up to $1.4 million (via Box Office Mojo).