Corsage Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Marie Kreutzer
Stars: Vicky Krieps, Florian Teichtmeister, Rosa Hajjij, Aaron Freisz, Finnegan Oldfield, Colin Morgan, Manuel Rubey.
This European coproduction is an unconventional biopic looking at the (largely fictional) last year in the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria (played here by Vicky Krieps, from The Phantom Thread, etc). Elizabeth is married to Emperor Franz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister), but she feels like she is merely an appendage and given no real power, and her duties are merely considered ceremonial.
It is 1877 and Elizabeth has just turned forty and is considered an old woman. She suffers from bouts of melancholy, feels that she is under constant scrutiny. Elizabeth is depicted as something of a lonely woman, a reclusive woman who is often cold towards others, including her daughter Valerie (Rosa Hajjij), with whom she has something of a prickly relationship, and her son Rudolf (Aaron Friesz). But she is also something of a rebel who flouts conventions. She also indulges in some self-destructive behaviour which draws the approbation of her husband who is concerned with formality and appearances. She often visits the local hospital where soldiers, who have been wounded during some of the Emperor’s military incursions, lie recovering, but one gets the impression that this is not out of a sense of duty but rather some personal vanity mission to be appreciated.
Corsage is more of a character study than a traditional biopic, offering up a revisionist take on this historical figure and Austrian writer/director Marie Kreutzer (The Ground Beneath My Feet, etc) gives the material a decidedly feminist slant. It is obvious that both Krieps and Kreutzer feel empathy for Elizabeth and the restrictions placed on her.
Corsage deals with themes of power, privilege, wealth, fame and duty. But the film itself is full of historical inaccuracies and deliberate anachronisms that give it a more contemporary flavour. The use of songs like Help Me Make It Through The Night, which wasn’t written until a century later, is a deliberate device that will make audience draw a parallel with Princess Diana, another tragic royal figure who also felt the pressures of having to bend to protocol and who felt like she was trapped in a gilded cage. The use of modern music in a period piece also recalls Sophia Coppola’s lavish and visually sumptuous 2006 costume drama Marie Antoinette. Another fanciful piece of imagination on Kreutzer’s behalf has Elizabeth meeting Louis Le Prince (Finnegan Oldfield), an early pioneer of the motion picture camera.
The film, however, is a little dull and plodding, but it is driven by a great performance from Krieps who inhabits the character and her complex personality completely, conveying Elizabeth’s sense of despair, vulnerability, anxiety and strength.
Nonetheless it is a handsomely mounted and lavish looking period drama with great production design from Martin Reiter, superb and authentic looking costumes from Monika Buttinger. It has been nicely shot by cinematographer Judith Kaufman and there is a contemporary-flavoured score from French musician Camille that adds atmosphere.
The title refers to the tight-fitting corset that Elizabeth wore to try and keep her trim looking figure, but it is also a metaphor for the restrictions placed on her and her position in this patriarchal society.
Corsage is one of four biopics centring around the empress Elizabeth. However, this one has been dogged by controversy – not for its treatment of the central character but due to the arrest of Teichtmeister who was charged with possession of child pornography.