In Corsage, a new film hitting theaters next week, Vicky Krieps puts a fresh spin on Austria’s revered Empress Elisabeth (1837–98)—the fabled “Sisi” thrice played by Romy Schneider in the 1950s—by making her a rebel in conflict with her husband Franz Joseph’s ritual-obsessed Hapsburg court.

Though Krieps plays Elisabeth uningratiatingly, she’s so constricted that she defies viewers not to root for her. She pretends to faint to escape a ceremonial welcoming party. She smokes behind the neglectful Franz Joseph’s back. Ducking out of one of many interminable dinners, she gives the finger to the assembled bores and harpies. She latches on to heroin. Her long-suffering but loyal ladies-in-waiting and hairdresser in tow, she eventually runs away—the movie’s writer-director Marie Kreutzer offering an alternative to Elisabeth’s real-life assassination.

It was 39-year-old Krieps’s idea to make the movie and set it in 1877, the year Elisabeth turned 40. “I read a biography of her when I was about 15,” she tells me. “I could sense some sort of mystery behind her image, and I was intrigued there was a secret society of women behind the curtain, like an underground collaboration. I wasn’t old enough to understand why she was sad, and I was puzzled.”

The Luxembourgian actress recalled that she had her second child when Kreutzer was directing her in the parenthood comedy We Used to Be Cool (2016). “I was breastfeeding and I felt trapped, being constantly judged as a mother who shouldn’t work so much. I talked it over with Marie, and I think we’d both become a little tired of the roles we have to play in life. When you’re a woman, are you the lover or are you the saint? I said to her, Let’s make a movie about Sisi. She wasn’t convinced. For her, Elisabeth was more like a superficial shop-souvenir figure, but she became interested when she read about her almost punk acts of rebellion.”

Krieps says she’s “personally bored” with the “superficial” aspects of her job. “Because I’m an actress, I’m supposed to be overly interested in how I look? I always found it profoundly unfair I had to wear all this makeup. The first time I rebelled against it was when I was making Phantom Thread,” in which she memorably portrayed the waitress who puts a hex on Daniel Day-Lewis’s couturier. “I said, No, Alma is not wearing any makeup. No one’s going to touch my face before I come on the set!”

There are irresistible parallels (historical connections, too) between Elisabeth and another tragically ensnared royal who was adored by the public. Like Princess Diana, Elisabeth had an involvement—vague though Corsage makes it—with her handsome riding instructor, a loveless marriage, and an eating disorder.

Krieps says she didn’t have Diana in mind when she and Kreutzer were making the film, “but when I saw Spencer [the Diana biopic starring Kristen Stewart], I was shocked by the similarities. You’d think Diana would’ve been freer to move, but she was just as trapped as Sisi. Women become their own worst enemies when we play these roles for men, for society, for our kids, which is why I think Corsage talks to people now.”

Kreutzer also denies she was thinking of Diana while making Corsage, “which is funny, because when I was a child my grandmother always had these magazines lying around with her face on the cover, and I was fascinated with her. But when we were editing, I found out I did have Diana unconsciously in mind. Our co-producer Maren Ade [the director of Toni Erdmann] also produced Spencer, so there are all these lines crossing.”

To look fabulous as representative Hapsburg eye candy, the empress narrowed her waist to 16 inches by starving herself. Her corset—and the film’s name—is a metaphor for confinement if ever there was one, as Krieps herself discovered during filming. “She was crushed. It’s a proper torture instrument. I had no idea wearing one would affect me physically and mentally so much. It was like having the tip of a knife pressed to your forehead the whole day. Wow, it made me crazy! It made me want to scream and shout all the time. Elisabeth’s ribs and organs would have changed over the years from wearing a corset, so she probably wouldn’t have felt the pain I felt, but it’s still a good example of how society at that time was able to capture women and imprison them in their own bodies.”

Not one to varnish her experience, Krieps allows she’s happy with her performance in Corsage. “And you know why? Because I allowed myself to misbehave and not try to be a good actor.” She laughs. “I like my mistakes!”

Corsage, starring Vicky Krieps, hits theaters on December 23

Graham Fuller is a New York–based film critic