Watch Catherine the Great
- 1 hr 40 min
Catherine the Great is a 1995 television movie that seeks to capture the life of the famous Russian empress, Catherine the Great. It stars Catherine Zeta-Jones as Catherine, Paul McGann as her husband Peter III, and Ian Richardson as Count Alexei Orlov, one of Catherine's closest advisers. The movie opens with Catherine's arrival in Russia as a young German princess, who has been arranged to marry the heir to the Russian throne, Peter. However, things take a dark turn when she realizes that Peter is a brutish and immature man who has no interest in ruling Russia or in bedding his new wife. Instead, he prefers to spend his time playing war games with his friends and tormenting the servants. As Catherine struggles to reconcile herself to her new life in Russia, she finds an unlikely ally in Count Orlov, a seasoned soldier and statesman who recognizes her intelligence and talent for governance. With his help, Catherine begins to educate herself about Russian history and politics, something that her husband Peter views with suspicion and outright hostility. When Peter ascends to the throne and Catherine is crowned empress, the real drama begins. Catherine quickly realizes that she is facing a perilous political landscape, one in which she will have to navigate a treacherous court filled with scheming nobles, powerful religious figures, and treacherous allies. She must also fend off constant attempts by Peter to undermine her authority and humiliate her in public. Despite her many obstacles, Catherine proves to be a formidable and visionary ruler. She introduces a range of reforms designed to modernize Russia and improve the lives of its people, such as codifying laws and minimizing the power of the Orthodox Church. She also becomes a patron of the arts, promoting the works of prominent Russian writers and philosophers. However, Catherine's personal life is plagued by difficulties. Her marriage to Peter is deeply unhappy, and she pursues a series of passionate affairs with various lovers, including Count Orlov. She also finds herself dealing with the emotional fallout of having to abandon her son, Paul, to the care of an abusive grandmother. As the years go by, Catherine becomes increasingly isolated and paranoid, convinced that her enemies are closing in on her. She begins to rely more and more on the advice of Count Orlov, who becomes her de facto co-ruler of Russia. However, their relationship becomes strained as Catherine realizes that Orlov is more interested in consolidating his own power than in helping her govern. The movie ends with Catherine still holding onto power, but with the seeds of her eventual downfall already sown. The viewer is left with the impression of a complicated and fiercely intelligent woman, respected and feared by her enemies, but ultimately doomed by her own hubris and the treachery of those around her. Overall, Catherine the Great is a compelling and well-acted portrayal of one of history's most fascinating women. Zeta-Jones is magnetic as Catherine, bringing both warmth and steeliness to the role, while Richardson imbues Count Orlov with just the right combination of charm and menace. McGann is less successful as Peter III, playing the character as cartoonishly buffoonish rather than sympathetic or complex. However, this is a minor quibble in what is otherwise a well-crafted and absorbing movie.