Christmas, 1877: Austrian Empress Elisabeth, known as "Sisi," celebrates her 40th birthday. She is extremely popular with large sections of the population, having succeeded in reconciling her image of a down-to-earth "Bavarian girl" with the grandeur of an empress. She is considered equally a fashion icon, a tremendously strong woman and an ideal of beauty - still, because at 40, Sisi is now officially considered an "old woman," having reached the average life expectancy for women. With a rigid mixture of fasting, exercise and makeup, she tries to continue to live up to her own image - and threatens to break. Eventually, she escapes the confines of courtly life, traveling from Vienna to England and Hungary, visiting former lovers and political allies, both to revive memories of her heady youth and to maintain control over her legacy.