The Empress Season 1 Review – Powerful performances fuel this impressive visual spectacle

Season 1

Episode Guide

Episode 1 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 5/5


The very first thing that speaks out to you in Netflix’s The Empress is what you see. The sets, the low camera angles, the costumes, and the gorgeous royal flair. All these elements sculpt an irresistible visual appeal for season 1. Even if the narrative quality had been sub-par, the aesthetics would have ensured a comfortable viewing experience.

Instant comparisons are made with The Crown, another hit period drama on the streaming service, and The Empress has shades of the former’s brilliance. Overall, it is an entirely different show with some shared thematic similarities and uniquely strong female characters.

Sisi, or Elisabeth, is one of Austria’s most famous Empresses. The lineage of those who have sat on the throne is filled with bizarre stories. Yet somehow, Elisabeth’s reign tops all of them. Season 1 of The Empress only shows glimpses of the wildflower she was, in an otherwise perfectly trained orchard. For some reason, in hindsight, the series does feel somewhat plotless.

Barring the rising sentiment against the crown, an impending revolution (that disappoints), and the war between the Allies and Russians, there isn’t much kinetic flow in the story. Most of this happens internally, either in the palace or the character’s own head. That is where the real excitement and tension come from.

Although the sense of suspense isn’t tangible, it grips the viewer nonetheless with an honest exposition of Sisi’s adventures as the Empress. It helps that the portrayal we see of Sisi is in itself so intriguing. She truly was a people person, becoming the ideal leader that we all hope to see in our own. She was notorious for her spontaneity and instinctive decisions that sometimes got her into trouble.

But from what we see in season 1, it elevated her in the eyes of the commoners. They began to see her as one, especially going from that last scene of the finale. And that was just skimming the surface.  There is so much more to be told, enjoyed, and felt here. Admirers of season 1, including yours truly, are desperately waiting for a renewal announcement from Netflix.

One of the most interesting and endearing dynamics in the series comes from the ties between Sophie and Elisabeth. It almost felt like the writers wanted to sculpt a look at the present through the prism of the past with these two characters. Prince von Vasa, Sophie’s fleeting love interest, also remarked how she “saw herself in Elisabeth”. That was the source of her hatred for Sisi. Both the females are pretty much alike and kept at each other for most parts.

Only rare moments gave way to tender occasions between the two, which actually showed how Sophie did not want Sisi to make the same mistakes. This is the kind of love-hate relationship that is so fun to dissect. The complex intricacies of their substance are difficult to break down in an instant and give food for thought to a viewer. Even the one-on-one dynamics between Sophie, Max, Elisabeth, and Franz, all made for a delightful addition to the show’s arsenal. In the absence of a happening plot, we saw these compelling depictions of intense exchanges between the main characters.

The most striking element of storytelling is the gorgeous visual scale. Without a doubt, season 1 of The Empress is the most impressively put-together show on any platform right now. It will give any peer a run for its money. Directors have smartly chosen low camera angles whenever the characters walked inside the gorgeous palace and wide shots when outside. Set designers have resurrected the rich paintings on the walls and high ceilings adorned with chandeliers and other unimaginable excesses with near perfection.

The costume department has accrued a wardrobe capable of making anyone jealous and enchanted at the same time. Such is the overall impact that you won’t hesitate to watch the episodes again just to watch certain scenes again. And if you are in the habit of screenshotting portraits you like in movies and television, prepare to make ample space on your hard disk.

Next in line is the strong set of evocative performances from the main cast. It is hard to find faults with any of them, even in the rougher spaces where the narration lagged. Devrim spearheads the bunch in terms of quality and dramatic heft. Her embodiment of Sisi is arguably the most sensible and authentic of all the cinematic portrayals until now. Melika Foroutan, Philipe Froissant, and Johannes Nussbaum complete the other trifecta of The Empress’ heart and soul. Even the supporting cast provides many moments of brilliance, especially Almila Bagriacik and Hanna Hilsdorf. The real-life personalities they bring alive come across as fully-fleshed three-dimensional people whom we can relate to and follow in the story.

The Empress is set to become the internet’s new darling as the viewership catches on. Not just period-drama enthusiasts but those who love quality cinema will swarm in front of their screens to binge it.

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  • Verdict - 8.5/10

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