Catherine the Great (1995)




Director:  Marvin J. Chomsky.

Starring:  Catherine Zeta-Jones (Catherine the Great), Jeanne Moreau (Empress Elizabeth), Omar Sharif, Mel Ferrer, Hannes Jaeniecke (Peter), Brian Blessed, Ian Richardson, Paul McGann.


Historical drama from A&E with Catherine Zeta-Jones as Empress Catherine the Great of Russia.

This movie is too short.  It was about an hour and a half and that is just too little time to cover the ground of someone called "the Great."  The movie spends the most of its time with the rise of Catherine to the throne and then does not have that much time left to discuss any other matters except those activities involving Potemkin.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is very charming as the empress even while trying to be serious and "masculine".  I recommend the movie; just wish there was more of it.  (But I am thankful that they made the movie at all.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1700-1721 --  reign of Peter I who did much to modernize Russia. 

1726-1730  --   Peter II, Peter I’s grandson, ruled.

1730-1740  --  Anne, daughter of Ivan V, ruled.

Peter the Great had a niece Anna Ivanovna. The council offered her the crown and she accepted, becoming Russia’s first female sovereign to rule in fact.

1740 -- the Empress died.

1740-1741  -- Czar Ivan VI ruled. 

The empress's baby son, Prince Ivan Antonovich, was to be the successor, but he and his supporters were overthrown after just three weeks and a regent was put in for Ivan VI.

1741-1762  --  Empress Elizabeth ruled.

1741 -- Peter the Great’s daughter, Grand Duchess Elizabeth, seizes power and becomes Empress Elizabeth. She said she was doing this in the name of Peter the Great’s grandson, her nephew Duke Peter Karl Ulrich of Holstein. She brought the teenager to Russia from Holstein.

1744 -- Empress Elizabeth picks a bride for her nephew: the 14 year old Sophia Augusta Fredericka, Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst. She later chooses the name Catherine for the youngster.

1745 January -- after a period of not seeing her future groom, Catherine finds him disfigured by a bout with smallpox.

The royal pair did not have sexual relations. Peter was immature and nervous around women. Some said that he could not function sexually because of a stricture of the foreskin of the penis. Catherine remained childless and the one thing Elizabeth wanted from Catherine was a male heir.

1754 -- after two miscarriages, Catherine finally gave birth to a son, Paul, most likely the son of her lover Saltykov. Saltykov was dispatched abroad.

1755 -- Catherine takes a new lover, a young Polish aristocrat, Count Stanislas August Poniatowski.

1756 -- Prussia invades Saxony -- outbreak of the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763). Russia allies with Austria and France, while Britain sends aide to Frederick II of Prussia. In North America this conflict was known as the French and Indian War.

1757 -- Russia attacks Prussia.

1757 December -- birth of daughter to Catherine.

1759 March -- Catherine’s baby daughter dies.

1758  --  during the Seven Years' War, a Prussian army of 36,000 men fought a Russian army of 43,000 men and won.

1759  --  at the Battle of Kay, or Paltzig, Russian Count Saltykov commanding a force of 70,000 defeated 26,000 Prussian troops commanded by General von Wedel. 

1759 (August)  --  only 3,000 of the Prussian army returned to Berlin following the Battle of Kurensdort (in Poland) with a Russian and Austrian force. Many of the Prussian soldiers were scattered.

1762  -- death of Empress Elizabeth.

1762-  Peter III, nephew of Empress Elizabeth, ruled. Peter takes the Russians out of the Seven Years' War.  Peter went to war with Denmark to recover Sleswig, that led to his overthrow.  Three different factions supported Catherine: Orlovs, Panin, and Princess Ekatarina Dashkova (sister of Peter III’s mistress).

1762 April -- her son Aleksei born; father Orlov.

Catherine makes her husband a captive.

1762 July 6 -- Peter III killed. Catherine became the ruler of a backward country.

Catherine immediately canceled the war with Denmark and withdrew her troops from Prussia..

1763 -- in alliance with Prussia, Russia invades the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, an unstable multinational aristocratic republic headed by an elected monarch.

1763 – Catherine founded Russia's first College of Medicine.

The total number of factories increased from 984 to 3161.

By 1765 – three quarters of the Empress Elizabeth's debt was repaid. Catherine was a friend to the poor and had even wanted to abolish serfdom.

When her son Paul was old enough, Catherine arranged a marriage to yet another German princess. Paul's wife died in childbirth.

1776 – Paul married Princess Dorothea of Wuertemberg (re-named Maria Federovna).

1777 – Catherine raised her new grandson Alexander.

Catherine put her trust in the able Gregory Potemkin with whom she was to have a long relationship. Russia annexed the Crimea from the Turks.

1780's -- Potemkin was the most important man in Russia.

Catherine was a friend of the Enlightenment and conducted a correspondence with Voltaire, Diderot and Baron von Grimm. 

1789  -- the French Revolution.  Hearing of the violence, Catherine abandons the sons of the Enlightenment. 

1796 – after a reign of thirty-four years, Catherine died of a stroke.

Sources: - 7k


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