Constantin Werner

 

 

 

The Story 

The Pagan Queen tells the mythical story of the beautiful Libuše, the founder of the Czech Přemyslid dynasty and the mythical grand matriarch of the entire nation. Mixing elements of fantasy and popular historical fiction, the story of Libuše’s life and death touches upon several important aspects of early Czech history, including the inherent conflict between paganism and Christianity, which then lead to the mythical founding of the capital city, Prague. 

According to the ancient legends, Libuše was the daughter of the mythical Czech ruler Krok, who made his youngest daughter the chieftain over her two elder sisters, the healer Kazi and the priestess Teta. Though the prophetic visions of Libuše prove to be very helpful in hard times, the male population is reluctant to follow a female leader. When forced to choose a husband for herself Libuše sends out her councilmen to fulfill a prophecy by finding a husband who would be ploughing the fields. The lucky man turns out to be Přemysl from the village of Stadice, who promptly marries Libuše and starts the first national dynasty. These ancient legends also credit Libuše with founding the capital city of Prague and giving birth to three children: the crownprince Nezamysl, Radobyl and Lidomir. Although their origins are shrouded in mythology, the Přemyslid dynasty continued to reign Bohemia first as princes, then as kings until the tragic murder of young king Wenceslas III in 1306.

In terms of creating national identity, the tale of Libuše and Přemysl is easily comparable to the myth of King Arthur in England or the Siegfried legend in Germany. There is no historical proof that either of them existed, but their story had been told and re-told so many times that it may be more familiar than historical reality. The first mention of the legend can be traced back to a monk named Cosmas of Prague, who first wrote about Libuše in his Chronicles of Bohemians (1119). In Germany, the story appeared in the romantic fairytales of Johann Karl August Musäus (1782) and the 500-pages long dramatic play The Founding of Prague by Clemens Brentano (1815). Austrian playwright Franz Grillparzer had also written a romantic interpretation of the tale in his Libussa (1874), while Alois Jirásek’s collection of Old Czech Legends (1894) introduced the love story to an even wider audience. Though all of these works retain the basic essence of the fairy tale, the story’s best-known version may still be Bedřich Smetana’s Libuše (1881), an ambitious and still frequently staged festival opera written in three acts.

Although the film’s writer/director Constantin Werner was born and raised in Germany, his Bohemian ancestry was an important inspiration in creating the film. As he explains: “My ancestors came from the Czech Republic – more precisely, the town of Usti nad Labem from the industrialized part of North Bohemia. Even though the entire family left Czechoslovakia in 1945 and settled in Bavaria, some of their cultural heritage strongly influenced my upbringing. My parents’ shelves were filled with captivating books, such as the fairytales about the mythical giant Rübezahl (Krakonos), the German language children’s stories of Czech expatriate Otfried Preussler, not to mention the photo albums about Prague and old Bohemia with their imposing castles and magical landscapes. These romantic aspects of Czech history and mythology are therefore a strong part of my own cultural background, which prompted me to make this film about Libuše, the founder of Prague.”