Catherine the Great of Russia was born as Princess Sophie Auguste Frederika of Germany, cousin to the Grand Duke Peter, who was the nephew and heir of Empress Elizabeth, who was unmarried and of course, had no children. Although Sophie was born a princess, her family had very little money. Through her mother’s influence, she gained the eye of Empress Elizabeth as the possible future wife of Grand Duke Peter.
Sophie herself was determined to do everything possible to curry the favor of the Empress and assure that she herself would gain power. As an aide to the Empress, who liked Sophie very much, she gained great experience with regard to the government. She studied zealously to learn the Russian language.
Sophie was required to denounce her Lutheran religion and join the Russian Orthodox Church, just as Peter had done. This did not deter her; she let no obstacle stand in the way of her desires. Upon becoming a Russian Orthodox member, she was given the name of Catherine.
Catherine was not at all enamored with Peter. He was childish, mentally unstable, not good looking, and spent a lot of time playing with toy soldiers. He admired King Frederick II of Prussia, which was not in keeping with the policies of the nobility who were not in favor of Prussia.
In spite of her dislike for Peter, at age 16 she went through with the marriage, only to be left alone on her wedding night while Peter continued frolicking and drinking at the wedding reception. When he finally came to their quarters, he was so intoxicated that he just fell asleep.
Catherine realized too that Peter was not attracted to her, and mostly avoided her. The Empress Elizabeth was pressuring her to have a child to insure the continuation of their reign. Catherine took a number of lovers over the years, including three named Sergei, Grigory, and Stanisłaus, by whom she had three children. The Empress was indifferent to the fatherhood of these children; her plan of succession was more important. The children were taken from Catherine upon their birth; she had no hand in raising them.
When Elizabeth died, Peter became Czar Peter III and Catherine was called the Empress Consort of Russia. Peter continued to show evidence of mental illness and erratic behavior which incensed his followers. He insisted on supporting Frederick II of Prussia, in contrast to Russian policies.
Catherine quickly moved to seize power and approval with the court and the military, who supported her planned coup d’etat. Peter was arrested and Catherine was declared Empress of all of Russia. Peter died eight days after the coup; it was rumored that he had been strangled by the guards.
Catherine reigned for 34 years until her death. Her reign was considered the Golden Age of Russia because of her interests and accomplishments. Russia became recognized as one of the great powers of Europe.
The film stresses more on the personal life and love affairs of Catherine, and less so on her achievements. This fact undoubtedly accounts for the film’s appeal to the public. The cast is most probably unknown to American audiences. Produced by an English company, it was filmed in Romania and Russia.
Sources: Catherine the Great (2005)