Bill Hays, Hugh Whitemore and John Elliot give us a far more realistic picture of the love story and political story of the time, which absorbs a viewer from the very beginning. It is, first of all, short of unnecessary tearjerkers. Much in the spirit of the whole series, the first episode is no exception and shows this story in the context of rising changes in Europe at the time which had a very strong impact on the fall of monarchies. Sophie (Pamela Brown) represents the past views on society, on governing, on family and, foremost, on the way the future of the country should be built. Sissi, however, brings fresh air to the old walls of the Hofburg Palace, where, unfortunately, she finds herself in a cage. She is much interested in Hungary (mind you that the Hungarians did not only symbolize a certain manifestation of fight for independence and freedom at the time but were very much disliked at the court because of the attempt on the life of the emperor administered by a Hungarian). Count Andrassy (Sandor Eles) is no sweet figure that makes Sissi feel in love but the very embodiment of resistance. He comes to the court. I liked the scene when the second child of Sissi and Franz Josef is born and it is a girl again. No successor to the throne... the court are saddened but the Hungarians are happy. Yes, that was their point of view.
Yes, they were against this very way of power before the Austro-Hungarian empire, before the 1860s and Sophie trembles at the very thought of some revolutionary ideas, some new waves within the borders of the empire. Her sole aim is to keep the dynasty alive and never let the eagle fall. She believes that a child that Sissi is can be curbed. Consider this sole method of CONTROL - that is her weapon - present throughout the series bringing forth new characters with totally new situations but being governed by the same principle. Those reactions to the changes were partly a reason for the fall of monarchies, the drastic change that the 20th century brought. There is a lovely scene when both women talk about the vision of Austria, the vision of the empire, which, to Sophie's mind "must be preserved at all costs." Can it?
The dramatisation by Hugh Whitemore and John Elliot leaves little room for the emperor, it seems. It is a deliberate psychological attempt to show the game behind the curtains, the game of women. The theater scene shows that vividly. Who is being applauded and who is being cheered? One of them has to dance the death waltz...
The performances are really great. Like in case of many British productions of the time, there is little room for special effects, there is little room for alluring the eye with some overwhelming sets but what evokes truly is acting. You sometimes have a feeling you are watching a Shakespeare play but it all adds much vigour to the drama. Particularly, Pamela Brown as archduchess Sophie and Diane Keen as Sissi. Miles Anderson as Franz Josef is a little bit too old for the period the episode depicts.
It is good to start viewing this series from episode one because in spite of the fact it seems that the second episode has nothing to do with this one, you later realize it is all one big whole. Very worth seeing!