Maria Theresia

Coat of arms of Maria Theresia. Source: Wikimedia Commons

I have been complaining for a long time that there’re no Hungarian historical dramas and television series. Well, we have one now – sort of.
The TV-series Maria Theresia debuted on the Hungarian television this weekend. The show was made by an international team consisting of almost all countries of the former Habsburg Empire: Austria, Czechia, Hungary and Slovakia. It tells the story of the only female ruler of Austria who was also the second queen of Hungary. The plot focused on the end of Maria Theresia’s adolescent life, on the first years of her marriage and on how she became the reigning Archduchess of Austria.

Though the drama has its flows, it also has quite a few positive points as well. First of all, the cast: most of the actors and actresses did a splendid job.

Francis Stephen and Maria Theresia. Source:
My special favourite was Vojtěch Kotek as Francis Stephen of Lorraine, Maria Theresia’s husband. Kotek could make me see why Maria Theresia was in love with him; even though he, as a man, is not my type, I found him charming – witty, clever in business and caring with his wife and children. Kotek also portrayed his inner turmoil and weaknesses equally well: how Francis Stephen was struggling with the way everybody saw him (as a “nobody”), how he wanted to help his wife with state matters and how he was somehow jealous of those man his wife listened to instead of him. One of the best scenes in the drama was, in my opinion, when he was torn between his love and his duty: should he give up his throne and people for the hand of Maria Theresia, or is his responsibility as the Duke of Lorraine more important?

Beside Francis Stephen, I loved Fritz Karl and Zuzana Stivínová as Emperor Charles VI and Empress Elisabeth Christine, respectively. Karl Markovics as Eugen of Savoy was a unique, strong character, while Adorjáni Bálint as Prince Esterházy… well, he immediately won my sister’s heart.

I’m not sure about Marie-Luise Stockinger as Maria Theresia – she was great, I guess, and I was touched by her performance at the Hungarian Diéta (Parliament), where she persuaded the Hungarian nobility to help her and Austria against the Prussians and Europe. Still, she lacked royalty: her gestures, behaviour and carriage could have been more of a queen. She would stand as noblewoman, yes. But she is a monarch, not some countess or baroness.

The coronation. Source:
The costumes and the sets were beautiful, and brownie points for paying special attention to small details like the blue gown of Maria Theresia which is based on a real portrait, and the whole coronation scene – the gown, the Coronation Robes, the Holy Crown of Saint Stephen, and the scene where the crowned monarch rides up the coronation hill and points to the all four corners of the world with the sword of Saint Stephen I. Oh, and extra brownie points for having Prince Esterházy speak Latin to the Queen. (You know, Latin was the official language of Hungary up until 1844.)

There were a few beautifully shot scenes as well, the most memorable being when the fallen soldiers were being buried and when the Privy Council held its meetings.

And how about the negative points? Because, unfortunately, there was a couple of things I would change a little in the drama. The first would be the plot – I get that no one would watch a history lesson, but there could have been more drama originating from historical circumstances, and less family drama and romance. I mean, the old Emperor and the Empress cannot have a son which is a really big problem for the empire – OK, I get it, no need to show it and then repeat and hear it from literally everybody, over and over again, sometimes in a very vulgar manner.

The Emperor and the Empress. Source:
Because the first part of the drama was all about the “son issue” and the love story of Maria Theresia and Francis Stephen, I felt the second part rushed.
You can make history – not romance, but “raw” history – interesting as well. Like, you can show me how common people lived in Bohemia, Silesia, Austria, etc. in that times. You can show the enormous difference between the Prussian and the Austrian armies and how the Prussians were a modernised, well-equipped “super army” in comparison to the Austrians. You can show me on maps what those defeats meant to the empire – because, you know, if some random court members announce that the Prussians won again, but I don’t get a glimpse of what this victory means in terms of land, people, strategic positions, etc., then I won’t really care. You can make side characters more interesting by revealing a little from their story. (Maria Anna, for example, the younger sister. According to the drama, she had a crush on his future brother-in-law, but she remained faithful to her sister and always stood beside her. But her character just simply disappeared from the drama around the third quarter, without any explanation.)
Esterházy Miklós. Source:
Then there is the implied romance between Prince Esterházy and Maria Theresia… Basically I have no problem with fictionalising history, as long as the resulting fiction-history remains true to the essence of the real events and characters. I mean, apart from her being a devout Catholic, Maria Theresia loved her husband and would never ever consider an affair, not even as a widow. After Francis Stephen died, she completely withdrew from court life, wore black for the rest of her life – heaven, she even had her rooms painted black.

And lastly – it may only be the Hungarian dubbing, but I found it annoying that they constantly messed up titles and addresses. Paying attention to small details is what makes a historical film or drama real – but in this case, they did not pay any attention at all. Prince Esterházy (who was referred to as Count Esterházy in the Hungarian version) cannot address the Queen by her Christian name. The child of a monarch is a “Fenség” (Highness) and not a “Felség” (Majesty), and she never is a “Méltóság” (Ladyship). I know these aren’t cardinal matters, but still… I miss those good old times when one understood a pun with the difference between “fenség” and “felség”.

Anyway, despite its flaws, Maria Theresia is definitely worth a watch – because it actually is a good drama on its own, because its story is interesting, because it’s (partly) Hungarian, not just the production, but the characters and the story as well.



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