The Other Catherine the Great (2015) Comes to Amazon

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It’s been a Catherine the Great fiesta the past few years! The Russians went there first with Ekaterina and then Catherine the Great (aka Velikaya), both of which took their time in being released to English-speaking audiences. The later version, Catherine the Great just came to Amazon, so lemme give you the dirt!

(FYI, the Catherine party continues, as now Helen Mirren will play the Russian queen, and Keira Knightley is in talks to do the same!).

 

Is Catherine the Great (Velikaya) Any Good?

I’ve actually quite enjoyed this, although there are some places where they could pick up the pace. The story starts when a young Catherine (then Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst) arrives in Russian with her scheme-y mother. She converts to Russian Orthodoxy, marries the future Peter III of Russia despite the fact that he’s clearly somewhat off and can’t stand her, and then negotiates her way through the complexities of her marriage and Russian politics.

I’ve made it through 8+ of the 12 episodes — yes this sucker takes its time! — and may do a follow-up post on the final couple of episodes, if I am so inclined.

(Note: Apparently when this production was first released on Amazon, it had some horrible voice-over narration in German. If you see reviews mentioning it, the problem has been solved.)

I liked that they cast a younger actress as younger Catherine. So many productions ask you to believe a 30-something actress is 15, and it just doesn’t work.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Christina Kucherenko plays the young Catherine.

Yuliya Snigir plays the adult Catherine, and she’s a very talented actress who I am enjoying.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Yuliya Snigir

I wish a bit more of the series focused on her inner emotions — a LOT of time is spent watching various court officials scheme, and while I’m sure there was even more, I don’t care so much about watching old guys. Also, a TON of time is spent on a soldier named Zalessky who is close friends with Catherine’s future lover Orlov. I don’t THINK she’s going to end up shagging this guy, so why spend so much time on his storyline?

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Too much Zalessky (Mark Bogatyrev)!

And speaking of which, while it’s kind of refreshing that Catherine’s romantic entanglements AREN’T the focus of the film, they’re curiously underplayed. Catherine will get flirty with a guy and then two episodes later it turns out she’s carrying his child. Wait, shouldn’t there be some tender fireplace moments in between??

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Catherine’s lover, Stanislaw Poniatowski, the future king of Poland. Just smile and nod at that overly autumnal fabric for now.

Nonetheless, the fact that they’re holding my attention despite having seen a gazillion Catherine the Great stories speaks highly of the production. The (translated) dialogue is good, and the locations are GORGEOUS.

The acting by other key characters is very well done as well, in particular Natalia Surkova as Elizabeth of Russia. She’s great as she has a solid, imposing figure which works well for her dominant character. And she’s hilarious with her exasperation at everyone at around her for Constantly Fucking It Up, at least in her mind.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Natalia Surkova as Empress Elizabeth.

 

Yeah, But What About the Costumes?

I CAN’T DECIDE. There are MANY MANY shitty elements, and yet I found lots of things I thought were pretty or semi-decent or if-I-squint-I-can-see-where-you’re-going-there. I don’t know, I feel like I’m increasingly immune to “we raided the high school theater’s wardrobe.” The costume designer is Tatyana Baranova, whose resume seems to be mostly Russian productions, none of which from what I can tell are period.

You’ve got a LOT of princess-seamed faux robes à l’anglaise (worn at least 2-3 decades too early):

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Ah machine-embroidered fabric! Ah princess seams!

A shocking lack of historically accurate corsetry and gown fitting. Some of the bodices are curvy and princess seam-y:

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

What are they wearing underneath? I’m not sure. Occasionally I think it may be nothing, given some of the lumpiness I’ve seen. We also get:

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

This corset, which looks quite good for the period!

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Oh, but it totally doesn’t fit and where is her chemise.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

This is the only other corset we’ve seen, on Peter’s mistress. It’s like a weird mash-up of 18th century and Victorian seen through a 1930s lens.

There are some squint-and-okay-maybe court dresses:

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Catherine’s wedding dress, which was quite lovely, although I don’t think we ever saw the back.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

See? Okay, maybe!

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Wait, close-up shows the neckline is all wrong and that’s some seriously shitty sleeve lace (wanna know what a court gown should really look like?). But I do like the embroidery!

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Alright so it’s not GREAT but it’s not TERRIBLE?

Some robes à la française that have me thinking “Okay, now we’re in business!”

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Yes, there were some inappropriate robes à piemontaise, where the back pleats are separate from the gown and you can see daylight through it. But there were some that were done right, like on this lady in waiting!

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Sure, if I poked around in there I’d find all kinds of horrors, but from here it’s lovely!

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Another nice française, if you ignore the beaded black lace overlay that’s totally Victorian. Note: NON-SHITTY HISTORICAL PAINTING. IT CAN BE DONE!

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Okay, yes, many a stomacher was CLEARLY sewn in.

Then they turn around, and it’s about 70/30:

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Okay the back has the wide pleats of a robe volante/battante, but I’m cool.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Hey! It’s got “en fourreau” pleats, yay! And it must close in front!

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Oh look it’s back lacing! (And 19th c. shoulder seams)

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

While Catherine’s and Elizabeth’s (non-française) gowns seem to mostly lace in the back, most of the extras get this.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Is it a zipper? Is it hook and eye tape? I can’t tell.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

A rare non-back-lacing dress on Catherine, from her 1860s hair period (more on that later). I’m thinking it’s hook and eye tape?

And then you get the clunkers:

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

She’s pregnant, sure, but this robe volante should open in front.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Dear god. Mostly I am offended by the boning that totally doesn’t suit her figure/the seamstress who has no idea where the bust point is, but also the fact that the skirt fabric doesn’t match and the fringed fabric along the waist edge of the bodice.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Then you get this française, which TOTALLY DOESN’T FIT the empress. Note GIANT HONKIN’ GAP between the stomacher and gown front edge (red arrow).

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

This angled hemline is correct, even if it’s a good 4″ too short all around.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

THIS POOR LADY. I DON’T EVEN KNOW IF I CAN ARTICULATE THE HORRORS. Trying: okay, if you put her into an ACTUAL CORSET and kept the neckline at the BUST POINT WHERE IT SHOULD BE and didn’t INTERFACE THE FUCK OUT OF THIS she might look like a reasonable human being.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

This extra entertained me, with her Little Bo Peep incorrectly “polonaised” in front and back overskirt. NO.

Side note, I don’t usually focus too much on jewelry. Most of what I saw was pretty and acceptable, except for:

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Yes, they wore jewels in their hair, but I don’t think it should scream “1950s brooch randomly stuck in the front of my wig.”

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Also, is it just me, or this necklace totally mid-20th century?

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Ditto!

 

Talk to Me About Hair, Baby

So, I have thoughts.

What was weird: everyone wore white and grey wigs, women included. This is historically inaccurate for women, who by and large did not wear full wigs in the 18th century. If they did, they worked their own hair into the wig/piece and tried to make it look natural. All the white and grey is from powder. Instead, EVERYONE goes in and out of these suckers: Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

However, I thought the styling was, by and large, nice! Yes there’s some theatricality, but they got the overall silhouette correct and often you’d see a longer back pinned up on the women which made me happy.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Wigs on ladies — nyet, but at least they’re well styled!

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Natural hair, again in decent styles.

The men were also in this wigs, and while that is appropriate to the period, they didn’t have lace-front wigs with natural hairlines. Weirdly, I actually kind of liked that aspect. No, it’s not historically accurate, but it made the wigs look non-cheesy — a hard wigline reads so faux to a modern eye.

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015) Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

That being said, sometimes the lace fronts weren’t glued down as well as they could be…

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

King Frederick of Prussia, who, by the way, never ages.

When they weren’t wearing wigs, most of the women’s styles worked, except right about episode 8 where Catherine starts rocking these very mid-19th-century daycaps:

Velikaya aka Catherine the Great (2015)

Why are we suddenly in Gone With the Wind?

 

Will you (or have you) watch Catherine the Great? What’s your take?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

5 Responses

  1. broughps

    Talking about the wigs and hair reminded me of doing family research and coming across Hair Powder certificates. Thought of you guys immediately and figured you would know what they were.

    Reply
  2. Susan Pola Staples

    I’m trying to watch it now. Right now I’m watching the first episode.

    The jewellery isn’t period and The costumes are IMHO mediocre but some are lovely. I cannot understand why there are errors in costuming. Actual garments worn by these Tsaristas are found in the State Hermitag, Palvolsk and Gatchina collections.

    So far i prefer the other Catherine actress which can be seen on Amazon.

    I do love Elizabeth Petrovna.
    Why does not she have a miniseries?

    Reply
  3. mmcquown

    Hasn’t been shown here; will look for it on Netflix. Ironically, in the other version, while historically, Katherine was German, Helen Mirren is Russian (nee Mironoff).

    Reply
  4. M.E. Lawrence

    “NON-SHITTY HISTORICAL PAINTING.” Wow. That is almost unheard-of, and I’ve never understood why. (Even Mr. Darcy’s painted images were pretty bad in the 1995 “P&P.”)

    Also glad to hear and see that Elizabeth is played by a strappingly handsome actress, since she was said to look great at her transvestite balls, so to speak.

    Reply

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