Romy Schneider and transeuropean stardom
: an analysis of a European star’s image and acting style

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


My thesis explores the career and star image of Austrian-born actress Romy Schneider who, from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s, was a major star in continental Europe (though not in Anglo-American culture). Schneider’s career raises many key questions about female stardom, European identities and exportability, and yet she has been largely ignored in scholarly work. She was propelled to stardom with the role of Elisabeth of Austria in the popular Sissi trilogy (Ernst Marischka, 1955, 1956, 1957), which lastingly established her early star image. However, her evolving roles – sweet Viennese girl, Parisienne, and ‘modern’ woman – together with her acting choices, events in her private life and directions within European cinema, divided her career into three major phases. This is why I structure my study into three main chapters as well. This first part focuses on the construction of Schneider’s persona at the beginning of her career in West German and Austrian cinemas that culminated with the Sissi series. I discuss how her star image developed with regards to three aspects – the on- and offscreen mother-daughter relationship (with her own mother who influenced her casting as the ingénue heroine), her identification with the romantic costume genre, and the ideological component of Schneider’s persona in relation to the historical context of postwar West Germany and Austria. The second part is dedicated to Schneider’s international phase during which she tried to make her mark in international film and projected a glamorous feminine image. This section also focuses on her collaboration with Luchino Visconti and on Schneider’s identification with a paradoxical form of trans-European stardom, i.e. her ‘exoticism’, or her capacity to embody several national representations without at the same time fully embracing one. I conclude Part II with an analysis of the French film La Piscine (Jacques Deray, 1969) after which she relocated to France and ‘reinvented’ her image which took a more complex and dramatic turn. The third part deals with Schneider’s successful French career in the 1970s and early 1980s and the image she developed in popular auteur cinema, especially the films of Claude Sautet, which combined sensuality, vulnerability and bourgeois identity. I look at the tension between Schneider’s star image and societal changes linked to the rising women’s movement and with the projection of her tragic Germanness in French films about the German Occupation, as well as with the morbid dimension of her last films. In trying to understand Schneider’s successful French career, this section also considers the echoes between her screen image, performance style and the tragic events of her later personal life.
Date of Award1 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorGinette Vincendeau (Supervisor) & Erica Carter (Supervisor)

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