The article uses the Sissi trilogy as a case study to offer a new perspective on popular film in the 1950s in general and on Heimatfilm in particular. Rather than reading those films as the expression of a wilful collective amnesia, the article aims to show that, despite representing a sugar-coated world of royal romance, these films form a crucial part of people’s coping with the past. In adopting a phenomenological approach to cinematic representation, the article emphasises the fact that realism is not to be sought in the fantastic setting of the costume spectacle but in narrative structure. The conventionality of narrative patterns and iconographies is brought out as an integral part of a social practice of narrativising, and thereby integrating, historical events within the private sphere of everyday experience. Within this familiar sphere, urgent issues of the 1950s such as gender relations and national identity were addressed and renegotiated. The argument culminates in the claim that it is only by suspending rash moral judgement and acknowledging this ‘privatisation’ as a necessary element in people’s narrative coping with the past that a new perspective on films like Sissi can emerge to provide us with a more complete picture of the 1950s.