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In the 1850's, Archduchess Sophie of Austria selects the Bavarian Princess Helene to wed her son, Emperor Franz Josef. But the emperor falls in love with Helene's uninhibited younger sister Elisabeth, nicknamed Sissi, whom he at first mistakes for a country girl. At a reception to announce his engagement, they meet again, and Franz Josef announces that he will marry Sissi. Following their honeymoon, Sissi takes her newly acquired responsibilities very seriously but breaks one tradition after another, violating the rigid protocol established by the archduchess. Franz Josef, however, delights in her openness and simplicity, which eventually prove instrumental in winning over the restless Hungarian nation. Hungary's Count Andrassy confesses his love for Sissi, but although she is attracted to him, she remains faithful to her husband, and they enjoy a second honeymoon in the Alps. She becomes ill with tuberculosis, however, and is sent to Spain for treatment. Under the devoted care of her mother, Duchess Ludovika, she miraculously recovers and is reunited with Franz Josef. Together they visit Italy, where they receive a hostile reception, but Sissi's wisdom and charm again convert the crowds into friends. Their mission accomplished, the royal couple returns to their native Austria.