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!
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.
Yuliya Snigir plays the adult Catherine, and she’s a very talented actress who I am enjoying.
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?
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??
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.
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):
A shocking lack of historically accurate corsetry and gown fitting. Some of the bodices are curvy and princess seam-y:
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:
There are some squint-and-okay-maybe court dresses:
Some robes à la française that have me thinking “Okay, now we’re in business!”
Then they turn around, and it’s about 70/30:
And then you get the clunkers:
Side note, I don’t usually focus too much on jewelry. Most of what I saw was pretty and acceptable, except for:
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:
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.
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.
That being said, sometimes the lace fronts weren’t glued down as well as they could be…
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:
Will you (or have you) watch Catherine the Great? What’s your take?