Netflix actors vs. her real-life characters in ‘The Empress’

Photo credits: Emil Rabending/ Csanády/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain and michaella92/ Netflix/ MovieStillsDB

Period dramas are all the rage on television, which has led many production companies to come up with their own. The online streaming platform Netflix has certainly hit the mark. his series, The company, follows the tragic life of the Bavarian Duchess Elisabeth, who married Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph to become Empress of Austria at just 16 years old.

Produced in Germany, the series featured not only the romantic plot between Elisabeth and Franz, but also many different members of the Austrian court. Viewers also meet the family members of the two main characters, all constantly scheming for better positions at court. Although these characters are certainly dramatized, they are all based on real people. This is how the actors look compared to their real life counterparts.

Elizabeth of Wittelsbach

The show focuses on Elisabeth von Wittelsback, who was born into a Bavarian royal family. Devrim Lingnau took on this role in The company, portraying Elisabeth’s life, which cannot be described in any other way than tragic. After marrying Emperor Franz Joseph I, she became Empress of Austria and eventually Queen of Hungary. From the moment she first entered court, she was at odds with her mother-in-law, who constantly put her down.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria in 1867 and Devrim Lingnau as Elisabeth in a promotional photo for The company. (Photo credits: Emil Rabending/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain and michaella92/ Netflix/ MovieStillsDB)

She gave birth to only one child, however, she died in a murder-suicide with her lover in 1889. In 1897, her sister died in a fire. Elisabeth’s life came to an end after she was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist while she was in Geneva, Switzerland, where she suffered injuries from which she simply could not recover. Elisabeth is well known for her obsession with maintaining a youthful appearance, as well as her aggressive exercise routine and spending hours taking care of her long hair.

Franz Joseph I of Austria

The role of Elisabeth’s husband Franz Joseph I was taken over by Philip Froissant in The company. Franz acceded to the throne in 1848 and married Elisabeth only a few years later, in 1854. By many accounts, he held a deep affection for her until his death, despite the many trials they faced during their marriage. Initially he ruled the Austrian Empire, but he eventually split it into a dual monarchy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1867.

Side-by-side image of Franz Joseph I of Austria in military dress with a large beard, and Philip Froissant as Franz Joseph in military dress and hat.

Franz Joseph I of Austria around 1860 and Philip Froissant as Franz in a promotional photo for The company. (Photo credits: Kean Collection/ Getty Images and michaella92/ Netflix/ MovieStillsDB)

Franz is arguably best known for his role in the start of World War I. His nephew was Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose death is considered one of the many factors that started the war. The Archduke was supposed to take the throne after Franz, so his death was a serious matter. Following the assassination in 1914, Franz Joseph issued the infamous ultimatum to Serbia that brought Austria and its German allies to war.

Princess Sophia of Bavaria

Melika Foroutan plays the role of Princess Sofia, the Bavarian tigress. She was the mother of Franz Joseph I and became Archduchess of Austria after marrying Archduke Franz Karl of Austria. Though considered by many to be authoritative and strong-willed, she was also extremely devoted to her family and the empire she became a part of.

Side-by-side images of Princess Sofia of Bavaria in a white dress and Melika Foroutan as Sofia in a striped dress holding an elegant glass of wine.

Princess Sofia of Bavaria around 1868 and Melika Foroutan as Sofia in a promotional photo for The company. (Photo credits: Hulton Archive/ Getty Images and michaella92/ Netflix/ MovieStillsDB)

As a mother, she was extremely interested in her children, possibly to the extreme. She is one of the main reasons why Franz Joseph was put on the throne, instead of his father. Sophie realized that if her husband took the throne, she would have little say in his actions. Hers son Franz Joseph, on the other hand, would be more likely to hear it. She managed to convince her husband not to take the throne, but instead she stood by her son while he ruled.

Archduke Maximilian

Portrayed by Johannes Nussbaum in The company, Archduke Maximilian, Franz Joseph’s brother, was initially his mother’s favourite. That, of course, changed when his brother was put on the throne. However, Maximilian managed to make a name for himself independently of his mother and his brother, serving as a rear admiral in the Austrian Navy.

Side-by-side photos of Maximilian I of Mexico standing for a military portrait, and Johannes Nussbaum as Maximilian in a suit and tie.

Maximilian I of Mexico around 1864 and Johannes Nussbaum as Maximilian in a promotional photo for The company. (Photo credits: Andrew Burgess/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain and michaella92/ Netflix/ MovieStillsDB)

After the French invasion of Mexico, Emperor Napoleon III asked Maximilian to establish a monarchy in the country that would act in favor of the French. He agreed, briefly ruling as Emperor of the Second Mexican Empire from 1864 to 1867, when he was executed.

Duchess Helene in Bavaria

Elisa Schlott plays the role of Duchess Helene, the woman who nearly became Empress of Austria in place of her sister Elisabeth. In 1953 she went to meet her cousin, Franz Joseph, along with her mother and her sister, hoping that the two would marry. Unfortunately, however, Franz Joseph preferred her sister and married her.

Side-by-side images of Duchess Helene in Bavaria standing in an elegant dress, and Elisa Schlott as Helene seated in a dress with hat and bag.

Duchess Helene in Bavaria in the 19th century and Elisa Schlott as Helene in a promotional photo for The company. (Photo credits: Atelier Holz/ Austrian National Library/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain and michaella92/ Netflix/ MovieStillsDB)

Sources say this failed opportunity to marry sent Helene into a depression, to the point where her mother worried that she would simply join a convent and give up men and marriage. She attempted romance again at the age of 22, which during the period was considered too old to marry. This configuration was more successful. She married and raised a family with Maximilian Anton Lamoral, Crown Prince of Thurn and Taxis.

Princess Ludovika of Bavaria

Elisabeth’s mother, Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, is played by Jördis Triebel in The company. Ludovika married Maximilian Joseph, Duke of Bavaria, although she was known to be disappointed not to marry someone of higher rank. It didn’t help that her husband had a fondness for circuses, a hobby she saw as quirky and childish.

Side-by-side images of Princess Ludovika of Bavaria painted in a red dress with her hair pulled back, and Jördis Triebel as Ludovika in a green dress with puffed sleeves holding an elegant glass of wine.

Princess Ludovika of Bavaria in the 1830s and Jördis Triebel as Ludovika in a promotional photo for The company. (Photo credits: Karl Joseph Stieler/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public domain and michaella92/ Netflix/ MovieStillsDB)

Throughout her marriage, she had 10 children with her husband. Apart from Elisabeth, the girl who got the best position was Queen Maria Sofia of the Two Sicilies. Princess Ludovika lived to the impressive age of 83 and was married to her husband for more than 50 years.

Countess Sofia Esterhazy

Wiebke Puls plays Princess Sophie Marie Josepha von und zu Liechtenstein, better known as Countess Sophie Esterházy. She married Count Vincenz Esterházy von Galántha in Austria and worked in the royal court of Austria, serving as Mistress of the Empress’s Robes.

Side-by-side images of Sophie Esterházy in a line drawing wearing a beanie, and Wiebke Puls as Sophie sitting in a large black dress, leaning forward and resting her arms on her knees.

Sophie Esterházy in 1833 and Wiebke Puls as Sophie in a promotional photo for The company. (Photo credits: Josef Kriehuber/ Photo einer Originallithographie der Albertina/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain and michaella92/ Netflix/ MovieStillsDB)

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Despite her position, Elisabeth greatly disliked him. Perhaps this is because she was a close friend of Princess Sophia of Bavaria, who hated her daughter-in-law. Although Countess Sophie technically served the Empress, it was reported that she acted more like a governess, constantly bossing her around.

rosemary giles

Rosemary Giles is a Story Content Writer at Hive Media. She received her BA in history and her MA in history from Western University. Her research focused on Canadian military, environmental, and history with a specific focus on World War II. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her studies, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history and war history, especially investigating obscure facts about World War II. In her free time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her significant other, her cats and her horse, or sitting down with a good book.

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