Young Catherine (1991 TV Movie)
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Young Catherine is a movie that memorably shows the early years of Catherine the Great. It is very accurate historically and very well made as a movie. Moreover, it shows her private life in a way that very few films have ever encountered to. Before seeing the movie, I underestimated Catherine. There were bad voices even among some historians that she was notorious for her love affairs and immoral life. But, after such a terrible experience, what could she do? Did she have a more promising choice? Her soul and mind were hurt by her young years! That is the most important conclusion that you will draw after seeing this movie! There are other factors throughout that are impressive.
The cast are excellent. The choice of Julia Ormond for the role of Catherine is very, very accurate. She is even better than Catherine Zeta Jones in Marvyn J. Chomsky's Catherine the Great (1995). She looks gentle, intelligent, sensible, and very clever. I loved most of the moments with her in the movie. She plays naturally. The equal things can be said about Vanessa Redgrave. She has proved to be a great actress a considerable number of times, but here, as Elizabeth, she is really INCREDIBLE! It's a must to see her in this role! Changing her heart from a cruel empress, unaccepted any mercy (sending away Catherine's mother) to someone who can forgive and love. Consider the moment when Catherine comes to Elizabeth and explains her deeds that were done for the sake of royal family's safety and her little son's happiness? A masterpiece of acting! It's crucial to mention Maximilian Schell, Christopher Plummer, and Franco Nero too. However, their roles are minor ones. Maximilian Schell shone in his role as Peter the Great in 1986... but here, indeed, the names that shine are Ormond and Redgrave.
The music is also something that has to be mentioned. It is very unique, profound, and "very Russian" There is some kind of nostalgia, but balanced, not overdone like in some other films. It is a pleasure to listen, very melodious and moving. Great! The music has the best effect at the end, in the scene of Catherine's glorious coronation and Count Orlov leaving, vowing to her the lifelong faithfulness and love. Really moving and memorable!
Summing it up, if you once decide to see YOUNG CATHERINE, the movie will supply you with more Russian history than several lectures and with more pleasure than several hours in a theater. There is everything in this incredible film. History for those interested in it, good music for the music lovers, great acting for those who like real stars in movies, love scenes for those who claim it to be a must in every movie. THE FILM IS A MASTERPIECE AT MULTIPLE LEVELS!
You will start to watch it indifferently, perhaps with no special interest, but you will leave the seat in tears! 9/10!!!
One certainly gets a strange look at the German-born Catherine the Great from the nymphomaniacal pictures one has read elsewhere. She is quite righteous, but one does wonder at the truth of her standing down the Russian Army during one of the palace revolts. I would think from all these historical monarchy movies that the life of a ruler is NOT a happy one....see "Anne Boleyn", "Elisabeth and Essex", "Mary, Queen of Scots" and "Richard III" for a few examples.
It is no wonder that this movie captures top dollar on the auctions. I had to wait out the big money spenders at least 11 times to get it at my price ($17.) Really glad I did. This will be well worth my new big screen TV and will get a re-screening along with "Nicholas and Alexandria". Pick up the old 1934 Douglas Fairbanks movie of "Catherine the Great" for comparison. Then head for the Brittanica for perhaps a little closer version of the truth.,,although this hits it pretty closely.
Young Julia Ormond plays Catherine and manages to convey both the naivete of the young German princess (named Sophie), who was selected to marry the Russian heir to the throne, and the resolution of the more experienced Catherine who must marshal all of her strength and all of her allies to overthrow her husband, Peter, and assume the throne.
Peter is wonderfully played by Reece Dimsdale as a childish, spoiled, and inept young man. In reality, Catherine met Peter when he was only age 10. This is one of many diversions from historical fact that the film includes, often for convenience.
But if one watches the film as a fairy-tale, it is quite enjoyable--at least up until the death of Empress Elizabeth (Lynn Redgrave), who sponsors Catherine and, in fact, gives her the new name. At that point, the film devolves into melodrama, though it still affords some enjoyment.
Redgrave is convincing as the imperious royal, demonstrating governance by whim so well, providing a framework for understanding the extent of royal indulgence. Another actor who shines in this piece is Christopher Plummer, as Sir Charles, a British diplomat assigned to Russia and a confidant of Catherine.
In addition to the acting, this film offers fine production values all around. The opulence and ostentation of the court and the church is on full display. The costuming is stunning.
Unfortunately, my grade must be reduced by several points for the film's divergence from fact. Its pace is courtly, allowing the viewer to really enjoy the story's unfolding; it's a shame that the producers felt that the patience of viewers could not accommodate a more accurate rendering.
I must admit, however, a great disappointment when I finally, just last week, read Carolly Erikson's well-researched biography of Catherine, and found many inaccuracies in the film. For one, Catherine actually had several children, not just Paul. It does simplify the story, however, to keep him as an only child (like how in Gone With The Wind, Scarlett's children by her first two husbands are completely left out of the film). The most frustrating inaccuracy, however, was that she really did not even meet Orlov til she was nearly 30 years old, and had already had several lovers.
The love story in the film is much more screen-worthy, however, so I can forgive their decision, it was just saddening to me to have my understanding of this amazing woman altered after so many years. The film's portrayal of the struggles of Catherine's early life is true-to-life in its essence, however, as it introduces a modern audience to this bold, brave, and incredibly intelligent historical figure.
In 1744, Catherine would have been 15. Julia Ormond was about 10 years older than that. It would have been more compelling to have a teen trying to deal with the political intrigue. The role does span a long time so it's a tough casting proposition. She was 33 when she took the throne. Ormond was relatively new and did a very nice job. The production is pretty high for a TV mini-series. The cast is filled with great veterans. It is better than most TV movies. As for accuracy, don't ask me. I'm no historian.