‘The Empress’ Review: A Royal Period Piece That Might Have Arrived Too Late to the Party

There have been a lot of period pieces in shows and films recently. Filmmakers have been looking into history, and they have basically decided to pick and tell the lives of every single woman that has ever ruled somewhere. Netflix, especially, has been at the forefront of this movement with The Crown, a show that now feels quite relevant after the death of its protagonist, Queen Elizabeth, in real-life. It makes you think how sometimes reality is so much more interesting than anything fiction can imagine.

However, in the last few years, there has been a tendency to go further back in time. The Crown had the benefit of following the life of a very well-documented personality. Someone who was even alive throughout most of the show’s run. Meanwhile, other shows go back further and pick up women who are long dead and whose history has not really documented their lives in much detail or any detail at all. Yes, most books were written by men, and so, in today’s society, it is better to think right away about how most of these women’s accomplishments were basically erased from the books.

This perspective gives the writers and filmmakers all the leeway they need to fill the holes with their own ideas. Sadly, this means that most of the time the ideas become the same, there is just so much imagination can do. And so The Empress, the latest Netflix TV series, goes on that road and ends up feeling quite the same. Not only to The Crown, but also to other series such as, this year’s The Serpent Queen, and Hulu’s hit The Great. Can The Empress find a way to stand out from all these shows that are doing exactly the same?

The Empress is a German TV series developed for Netflix by Katharina Eyssen and Lena Stahl. It tells the story of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, and how the young woman navigated the always complicated and dangerous life of a royal court. The series focuses a lot on the political scheming, but also on the more romantic side of the Empress and how she captured the hearts of men wherever she went. The series consists of six episodes of one hour in length.

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The first thing you will notice about the Empress is how beautiful it looks. Like in Hulu’s The Great, the production design is one of the most important elements when it comes to selling a story that happens somewhere else in time. Thankfully, the production design department working on The Empress is just amazingly talented. They have managed to use their sets in the best possible way, allowing the rest of the crew to shoot and bring them alive through their acting, lighting, and writing.

However, like the rest of the show, The Empress also feels a bit similar to other shows in the same vein. It is, of course, impossible to make things just look different for variety’s sake. Nevertheless, the sets and the costumes of all these shows blend with each other quite easily. Sometimes it becomes very hard to find details that are just unique to each show. The same happens with the sets, the makeup, the art, and so many other elements that compose the world the characters inhabit. Either way, the quality of the production is very high and it sells the period quite easily.

It then comes down to the writing and the acting to make something that feels more unique and interesting than its peers. When it comes to its plot and characters, The Empress is kind of a mixed bag. The stories are very much like things we have seen many times before, the rough marriages, the betrayals, the tender moments between friends, the sadness of losing someone. These are all moments that are very much part of real life, but when there are so many shows using them to tell the same stories over and over, you might suffer from déjà vu, while watching The Empress.

The writing also falls into some common pitfalls where characters behave in illogical ways and the writers just want the story to keep going. And to do that, they use some tropes that, more than exciting or intriguing, are just annoying. The ending suffers from this, and it is clear that everybody in the production team is waiting for that second season. It is nice to leave some things in the air with the hope of following them in the next season, but when it comes to the viewing experience, it might not be as satisfying as the writers think it is.

Fortunately, the sloppy writing can be overcome thanks to some fantastic acting. The entire cast is on fire in The Empress. Especially, Devrim Lingnau, who plays the title role. The 24-year-old actress is quite amazing, and she has an expansive range that allows her to go through an entire spectrum of emotions throughout the entire season. She begins as quite a rebel, but as the weight of life begins to leave its marks on her, you can see that she starts maturing as a woman in very subtle ways.

The rest of the cast also do an amazing job of supporting Lingnau in her journey. The actors make even the most baffling of writing decisions work, so for some people those writing pitfalls might not even become an issue in the long run. The Empress is a beautiful production, and it is also quite entertaining. If this is your first show of its kind, you will have a blast. If you’re a veteran of the genre, then it is fine, but it lacks personality traits that might separate it from the rest of the shows trying to do the same.

SCORE: 7/10

  • Nelson loves all things related to storytelling. He has spent most of his life studying narrative, applied across all mediums; film, TV, books, and video games. Mulholland Drive is his favorite film.