Take a Drink: for voiceover
Take a Drink: for sex
Take a Drink: for power shifts
Take a Drink: for each great character actor you spot
Do a Shot: wodka contest!
Do a Shot: Honk! Honk!
Do a Shot: for the most half-hearted beheading ever
Watch those three-line extras, there’s a shocker in there. First person to recognize him Assigns a Shot.
By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
Quick! What is Catherine Zeta-Jones’s ethnicity? She was in Zorro, so something Latin, right? Spanish, Mexican, Chilean maybe? Oh, this is a trick question. So… Persian? She could be Persian. No? Greek? Israeli? Umm… Kazakh? Ah, this is a review of Catherine the Great. Russian then, right?
Haha, still don’t know, do ya.
She’s Welsh. Weird, eh? She’s just got one of those (gorgeous) faces, like Ben Kingsley (English/Indian) that makes her a fit for practically any role, even… Catherine the Great? Yep, she plays the German-born, Russia-ruling Empress as she rises to power in spite of her dim-witted imperial husband and his scheming mother.
This TV movie (with a surprising amount of nudity) is in the History-as-Soap Opera mold of the (far superior) Elizabeth, and just like that film is far more effective when its focusing on the true details of its incredible woman’s rise to power and machinations to ensure it than its trite romantic subplots. Catherine the Great’s is perhaps even more incredible- becoming one of her nation’s greatest rulers despite not even being born there or sharing its ruling family’s blood and even failing to produce an heir to that family’s crown, but mothering three bastards instead. In the 1700s!
Not know for its progressive gender politics.
Production-wise, there’s some great costuming and use of real locations, but the real attraction is the stable of ace character actors. Catherine Zeta-Jones is confident and beautiful if not really a fit for the part (have you ever seen a picture of Catherine the Great?) Jeanne Moreau and her gravelly voice command the screen in the mother-in-law role, but Omar Sharif, Mel Ferrer, and the bearlike duo of Jonathan Rhys-Davies and Brian Blessed also get their licks in.
Bless you, Brian Blessed
Also, the highlight of the film for me was the surprise appearance of a beloved actor I had no idea was doing English-language films at this point in his career. Awesome.
I got a bad vibe from the start when the credits were run over disconnected “action-packed” scenes from the film to follow. “Stick around and you’ll get to see a riot, a fire, and maybe somebody’s butt!”
Mine, if you’re lucky!
The boxy 4:3 TV aspect ratio is also pretty brutal for a story this epic (even if it was unavoidable at the time).
The Celine Dion knockoff end credits song is like nails on a 90s Edition chalkboard, but the regular score is just as bad. It’s trying way too hard, overwrought and a little schizo trying to make even the most mundane moment dramatic.
The script is just as bad. It thinks it’s delivering high drama and romance, but fails because it’s too overeager to develop anything properly. Why does she fall in love like five times? Who knows? In one scene Zeta-Jones literally goes from breathily murmuring ” I hear you’re a man of many talents” to her paramour honking her breasts like a horny 14 year old. Symbolism.
Catherine the Great is one of the most complex and fascinating figures in world history. She deserves a better biopic than this, but if you want a quick primer and hate B&W, this’ll do.