In the first film, Sissi (1955), we are introduced to the delightful family of Duke Max (Gustav Knuth) and Archduchess Ludovika (Magda Schneider, Romy's actual mother) of Bavaria, a royal yet down-to-earth group. Ludovika's sister is Archduchess Sophie (Vilma Degischer), mother of Emperor Franz Joseph (Karlheinz Bohm), a handsome young ruler who has hit marrying age, and the two women have selected his demure but lovely cousin, Helene or Nene (Uta Franz), as she is called, to be his wife. Vicky has to keep this from her husband Max until things are announced, since Max prefers a simple life, so she and Sophie decide that Nene, Vicky, and Sissi (Romy Schneider) will come for a visit to celebrate Franz Joseph's birthday and the engagement announcement can commence while they are there. However, fate intervenes when a vivacious and carefree Sissi slips out of her room where she is told to stay to keep her out of trouble and goes fishing, managing to catch none other than the Emperor himself! Of course, his bumbling bodyguard, Major Bockl (Josef Meinrad) is convinced Sissi is an assassin out to kill him and much hilarity ensues.
It's a bit of a Cinderella story, since Franz Joseph is smitten by the girl, but has no idea who she is. Likewise, Sissi falls for the handsome Emperor, but since she has been kept in the dark about Nene's engagement, she feels free to return his attention. Naturally, when the girls are introduced to him at the ball, Franz Joseph chooses Sissi instead of Nene, crushing the older sister's hopes and dreams, and making his mother very angry, since she has no interest in trying to craft an Empress out of a 16-year-old girl who'd rather be playing with animals or walking through the woods. But Franz Joseph is the Emperor and he has chosen, so the film ends with their glorious wedding and with Nene offering her blessing.
In Sissi: The Young Empress (1956), Franz Joseph and Sissi are living in wedded bliss, much to the chagrin of Archduchess Sophie, who still believes the girl is unfit to be Empress, although she makes the Emperor unbelievably happy. When a baby girl comes along, life should be perfect, however Sophie takes the child to raise herself, feeling Sissi too young to properly raise a child. Sissi is devastated, especially since Franz Joseph agrees with his mother, but he believes more along the lines that Sissi is needed at his side with so much political unrest, not at home rearing a child. At the time, Hungary and Austria are in conflict and the Emperor provides amnesty to the Hungarian rebels, including their de facto spokesman, Count Andrassy (Walther Reyer). When a reception is hosted by the Emperor and Empress of Austria to welcome the Hungarian delegation back with open arms, Sophie openly insults Andrassy, sparking a political incident. However, Sissi, being far more politically savvy than anyone could have imagined, is able to charm the Count with kindness and she saves the day. After this situation, Sophie is forced to relinquish the care of the young girl back to the more than capable arms of her mother.
In Sissi: The Fateful Years of an Empress (1957), Sissi and her daughter are staying in Hungary for an extended visit, as she much prefers the peaceful countryside and the company of her dear friend, Count Andrassy. The country of Hungary has accepted Sissi and Franz Joseph as the Queen and King of Hungary and a great celebration is held, but the happiness is marred by Sissi being struck with a lung illness. Her doctor advises that she must stay away from Franz Joseph and her beloved child, or risk infecting them, so she goes to Madeira, Spain to try to recover, but the doctors fear the worst. Her beloved mother, Vicky, joins her there to cheer her up and help her recover, and the ever-present and ever-hilarious Major Bockl is also there to watch over the Empress, falling in love with a new woman with every country they visit. The group embarks on several trips around the world in an attempt to get Sissi well again, and she once more works her political magic by winning the hearts of the angry Italians at an event by doing what she does best - being herself, a kind and wonderful person.
Romy's role in Victoria in Dover (1954), also called The Story of Vickie, is surely what garnered her the role of Sissi as she plays a young Queen Victoria, a sweet but thoroughly unprepared girl whose regal title is thrust upon her when her uncle dies. As she assumes the throne, her mother, Duchess of Kent and her mother's closest confidante, Sir Conroy, seek to change the political face of England. But Victoria will not be manipulated, and with the advice of her dearest friend, Baroness Lehzen (Magda Schneider), she reaffirms the current political climate and the role of the Prime Minister. What's more, she decides that she won't be pushed into an engagement, either by her mother, her other uncle, or even her political confidante, Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. Even though they have collectively invited three eligible young royals as potential suitors, Vickie, Baroness Lehzen, and George, her steadfast servant, embark on a whirlwind trip to Paris so she can discover love before she commits. However, bad weather intervenes and she is stuck at a tavern/inn in Dover, where coincidentally enough, Prince Albert (Adrian Hoven) is also staying as he begrudgingly heads to Victoria's birthday celebration. Naturally, the pair meet under amusing circumstances, and misunderstandings and mistaken identities occur. Imagine everyone's surprise when they finally meet up at the birthday celebration!
Lastly is Forever My Love, the condensed, English-dubbed version of The Sissi Trilogy, basically all three films with copious amounts of story removed and a Burt Bacharach song added to the title credits. This particular version has not been remastered to Blu-ray and is, in my opinion, included purely for nostalgia as it is not really worth watching. So much of the story is lost and the feeling as well, when the voices are not those of the actors. Also, there are no subtitles, for those who prefer them. Personally, I'd advise just watching the original films.
There are also two special features: one is a short making-of featurette where Romy discusses some of the scenes they filmed in Sissi: The Young Empress, and the other is a 4-minute excerpt called Sissi's Great-Grandson at the Movies and has him discussing the ways that the movies are either accurate or inaccurate. To be honest, this was interesting, but you can't understand the dubbed English over the Austrian or German being spoken so loudly, so it's kind of hard to enjoy. It was interesting to discover that Sissi was a real historical character, though.
Overall, this collection is a delight for those who enjoyed the sweeping romances of days gone by. These are truly fairy tale romances and are sweet, funny, and touching. They have been beautifully restored and the sets and costumes are simply breathtaking. Romy Schneider is completely captivating in both her roles as Sissi and also as Victoria, and it's easy to see how the Emperor could fall in love with her so easily.
If you have a person on your Christmas list that either remembers these old holiday classics or would appreciate a throwback to simpler times, this would make an incredible gift for them. Do be aware that the films are all in German audio with English subtitles, but I didn't find this detracted one bit from my enjoyment of the movies. Again, while this collection isn't for everyone, and the kids of today would lose interest in a few minutes, those who get it will love it.