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The Empress Elizabeth II rules mid-eighteenth century Russia. She marries
her heir, the physically impotent German prince Peter, to the German
princess, Catherine (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Catherine takes a lover, bears
a child, plots against her husband and deposes him after he has reigned
six months. She becomes the Empress Catherine II. Well-educated and with
liberal ideas, she is an astute politician and wages war with success. Yet
when rebellion confronts her with the choice between fostering freedom and
suppressing rebellion, she chooses suppression.
Catherine II was a fascinating and complex ruler, the period was crucial in determining the future course of Russia, its expansionary empire, its reactionary society and primitive economy. This film, however, addresses none of these great themes, except in the most cursory and superficial manner. It is a shallow drama of empty spectacle, in which intimate diversions are followed by unconvincing public events, battles and rebellions. The psychological characteristics of the protagonists, the motivations that drive them, the reasons for their decisions are all left unexplained. "There are great matters at stake", says Catherine to Potyomkin (Paul McGann), but we are never told what they are. Such rationalizations as do emerge involve the anachronistic importation of late twentieth-century western liberal concerns into eighteenth-century Russian society.
Television drama need not seem cheap. This film does. There is a good cast, but the dialogue is empty and its delivery perfunctory, although Ian Richardson's Vorontsov is done well and Brian Blessed is surprisingly well-moduated (and exceptionally quiet) as Bestuzhev. Generally, the cast seems dispirited by the trite, thin, lines they are asked to utter. One hundred minutes spent watching Miss Zeta-Jones will always have its rewards. None the less, she is miscast. Most particularly, her voice is in its nature contemporary and middle class, with its very modern inability correctly to pronounce the letter 'r'; it is unsuitable to the role of an eighteenth century aristocrat and Empress. The set pieces are sparse and unconvincing and the direction humdrum.
The story and this cast deserved better than this slight spectacle.
Having read the other comments on this film (by the way, I saw the 180 minute TV version), it seems to be the general opinion that Catherine Zeta-Jones was excellent. I beg to differ. Not one moment was there in the entire movie where I felt she was the protagonist, as she was supposed to be. If the real Catherine did do things that earned her the nickname "the Great", they were kept out of this movie. Going to extreme lengths to avoid one inch of her body being seen during one of the many nude scenes (then why play them at all?), Zeta-Jones never convinces as a woman of the world, a strong character, able to stand up to her mother-in-law (played brilliantly by Jeanne Moreau), and toying with the emotions of every man around. Instead she is an ice queen. No warmth, no passion, no sincerity. On the other hand, the movie has many fine performances. Ian Richardson, Brian Blessed, John Rhys-Davies (yes, he is well-cast as a violent peasant-soldier), Tim McInnerny as Iwan, aka prisoner number one. And production is beautiful, just look at Catherine's diamonds. They sparkle whereas their wearer doesn't. Does this movie enlighten the viewer about an important era in Russian history? No, but that would be asking a bit much in so little time. But it does tell a story quite entertainingly. Alas, as with many international productions, some people are simply miscast... All in all, 3 out of 4.
Although fairly interesting to watch, Katharina is very historically inaccurate and biased, which is partly due to the horrible miscasting. Just to name a few: 1. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Empress Catherine II: a actress who is young, beautiful, dark in complexion and extremely attractive is certainly a poor choice to play a pale, plain middle-aged nimphomaniac. No one would ever address the real Catherine II as "you pretty thing", as Pugachev did in the film! 2. Jeanne Moreau as Empress Elizabeth: a 70-year old playing a 40-year old (I think this is self-explanatory) 3. Omar Sharif as Count Razumovsky: a 65-year old with a typically mediterranean appearance as a 45-year-old Ukrainian... 4. Rhys-Meyers as Pugachev... Don't know where to start... Apart from the fact that the actor is once again much older that his character, Rhys-Meyers is a BAD choice to play a violent, charismatic, almost demonic, and at the same time very folkish, Emelian Pugachev. Rhys-Meyers just doesn't look like an escaped convict-mass-murdered-highway robber-impostor or any of what real-life Pugachev was. Apart from that, a particularly striking misportrayal is the execution of Pugachev. The filmmakers have it take place in the summer in front of a crowd of about 5, while in reality it took place in the middle of winter on the Red Square in Moscow in front of a crowd of perhaps a 100,000, and was an extremely dramatic event, one the biggest public spectacles in Russia's history. So much for the fillmakers... Also, the story of Catherine's marriage to Peter III is portarayed in a highly prejudiced manner, drawing an all-too-clear line between the supposedly "good guys" (namely Catherine, Orlov, and the bunch) an the "horrible monster" Peter III. The story was not nearly so black-and-white in reality. Apart from that, the film makes fairly decent viewing. Balancing the two, I give it a 6/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The great Catherine Zeta-Jones, before she became internationally famous,
plays "Catherine the Great" in this 1995 film billed as an "A&E Original."
It is filmed in what I will call an "antique" look, with a light
olive-colored overtone to it and few brilliant colors. Still, it is very
beautifully filmed and looks appropriate for the period, the middle 1700s.
Zeta-Jones is marvelous as a very believable Catherine
The film begins in 1745 Russia where, at the age of 15, Catherine was plucked from the Prussian (German) backwater to be wed to Grand Duke Peter, 17, the presumed heir to the throne. Her job was simple - to provide Peter with a son and eventual heir. Problem was, after 7 years Peter and Catherine had not consumated their marriage, and Peter seemed completely indifferent to his wife, but flirted with other ladies. Ultimately the empress orders a virile young courter to seduce Catherine and impregnate her, then Peter starts sleeping with her to make it seem the baby is theirs. In a scene to establish Catherine's true role, the newborn baby boy is taken away without the mother even seeing it.
In 1757, at war with the Prussians, Catherine is persuaded to send a letter of support to the troops, but the letter is intercepted and the empress confronts her. Catherine asks the queen to send her back to Prussia, the empress says "no", then asks, "After I'm dead, will you seek power?" Catherine pauses only a couple of seconds and says, sternly, "Yes!" At a friend's suggestion that she and Peter could share power, she replies, "He loathes the sight of me", and she decides the only solution is to gain sole power.
In close anticipation of death of the empress, politically-smart Catherine seduces a high-ranking general to gain military support for her. When the empress dies, Peter is proclaimed "Czar Peter III", and Catherine, his wife, isn't even allowed to speak to him. She is sent in seclusion to Peterhof. His reign lasts all of 6 months, when all military leaders in turn swear their allegiance to Catherine, then she is declared "Empress Catherine II" by the clergy and seizes the throne in 1762. Her stated mission was to "drag Russia out of her mideival stupor, into the modern world, and free 10 million serfs." In a word, a revolution. Peter was put out of his misery.
The film continues with some account of the fighting with the Turks, her difficulty establishing a love relationship with the man she adored. History established that she became a "conscientious ruler", building schools and hospitals, promoting modern ideas, and attracted scholars from other countries. However, she did not follow her intent to free the serfs and instead promoted the interests of the upper classes. She died in 1796 at the age of 67.
The film gives a great historical glimpse of an important chapter in Russian history, the coming to power of Catherine the Great, but I can only rate it "7" of 10. It is not as "engaging" as other great "historical" films I have seen recently, like "Longitude" and "Amistad", just to name two. Still, it is a very worthy film and Zeta-Jones becomes Catherine. In addition to Zeta-Jones, John Rhys-Davies is great as the scruffy revolutionary that eventually was beheaded. He played the loyal "sidekick" in "Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark."
After having read the preceding reviews and of course
having seen the flick I just had to add this comment:
I take my movies seriously and I take my history
seriously---in general. I will easily admit that this film
is a bit weak on both scores. But everybody obviously had a wonderful time!
And sometimes that counts for something. I had not seen Miss Zeta-Jones before but I am certainly glad to have seen her now. I will admit that Mae West was probably closer to the real Catherine (complexionwise, haircolorwise, and probably even sexualproclivitywise) but it was an absolute pleasure to watch a woman who is imperious as well as beautiful play a part in which she is required to be both those things! I mean, she pulled it off! And she looked absolutely great doing it! I Can't wait to see her again. Well now, the historic issues. I am really sorry that Potemkin didn't get a chance to show Catherine a Potemkin village in this particular version, but other than that the history didn't really bother me all that much. The fact is, I kind of liked the plot, even if it does come from never never land. So put me down as a complete Philistine if you will, I can't help but admit that I enjoyed this thing thoroughly, misguided as I may be. And let me throw in one more kudo. Anyone who cut his teeth on "Gunsmoke" as Mr. Chomsky did, and winds up directing a Russian Czarina quoting Rousseau can't be all bad. I hope you like it too.
Catherine Zeta-Jones does an outstanding job in this movie about Catherine
the Great of Russia (Zeta-Jones earns the title for herself.) The
intrigue of the 18th century Imperial Russian court comes alive as
- to ensure her own survival - seizes the throne from her husband, the
dim-witted and obnoxious Czar Peter, and establishes herself as Empress of
Russia. Demonstrating her own political skills, she becomes absolute
There are some very good battle scenes and few weaknesses in this movie. The plight of the Russian serfs might have been made a little more clear. Their revolt against Catherine's authority dominates the latter part of the movie, but somehow we never really get any strong sense of what they were up against. I also would have been quite willing to watch this movie for another hour or so to have been able to follow Catherine's later career. As it stands, the ending left me a bit empty. All in all, though, this movie well deserves a rating of 8 out of 10.
Once again, A&E brings us a beautiful looking production. The costumes,
sets and, of course, performances by an exceptional cast, are stunning
as always. However it seems that the writers were getting a bit tired
while working on this one. It lacked the cleverness and vivacity of
productions such as Vanity Fair and Pride and Prejudice, and the drama
we enjoyed in Horatio and Tess. I was also disappointed to find that
the version available in N.America is only 90 minutes long, and
includes only Catherine's early reign. If you want to see the entire
production you apparently need to get the 3-hour version, available in
All in all, it is worth watching, if only for the visuals and wonderful acting. Catherine Zeta Jones is brilliant and displays her versatility in this dramatic role. I cannot begin to comment on the equally strong performances of the rest of the cast, being restricted to 1000 characters here, but as I say, certainly worth the watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Terrible editing, terrible sound, just plain terrible.
What a waste of good talent. The only good things about this film are the sets, the dresses and some of the outdoor scenery. Other than that, this is a truly disjointed, uninformative film.
I would really have liked to have known more about this person, but this film did not educate me.
It is as if the actors - and actresses - are just playing at acting. No real substance to it, no real believable characters.
I didn't even wait to see the scene with Catherine Zeta-Jones getting stripped naked. That's how bad it was!
This 100 minute version severely massacred an important period of history, omitting serious events and consequences, lacking in reasoning and rationale, short in character development and recreating history superficially and with little respect to timing and reality of events. The direction was insipid; the action was disjointed; the acting seemed unmotivated and uninspired; the musical score was more suited to a western; the screenplay was incoherent; suspense was linear; the story arc lacking. There were points left unresolved along with loose ends about what happened. Except for the costumes and sets, the film was mediocre at best and trivial at worst.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ah, the story of Catherine the Great of Russia told in all its glory &
splendor... as much as A&E can capture on a modest budget anyway.
Honestly, an okay but not terribly spectacular account of Catherine the Great's life & exploits. Primarily of interest for seeing a young, pre-stardom Catherine Zeta-Jones getting stripped naked and what not. One scene in particular where her night clothing is cut off and removed from her lovely body is a very pleasing visual to behold on the screen, not to mention the sight of her making love by the fire and bathing.
Made around 1995, three years before Catherine Zeta-Jones found fame and fortune - an a very iconic strip scene - in The Mask of Zorro opposite Antonio Banderas.
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