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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

'Young Catherine' DVD: Russian to Judgment Regarding a Royal Dynasty

Young Catherine
Warner Archive's DVD release of the 1991 two-part TNT mini-series "Young Catherine" provides those of us whose knowledge of Russian Empress Catherine the Great is primarily limited to her unusual degree of fondness for equines a chance to learn more about this truly historic 18th century figure.

Having my highly significant other, who is an expert on Russian history, state that the production is largely accurate (with the exception of having much more attractive people portray several key players) is a nice bonus.

The other shared observation is that the actors who portray the Russian and German characters all speak English and use a variety of accents that include German, British, vaguely Russian, and American. 

"Catherine" additionally is another case in which someone else doing a very good job describing a film allows for justified laziness. The IMDb description of this film states "a German princess is chosen to marry the heir to the Russian Throne, but faces plots and intrigues against her." These aspects of the story, and other elements that include a romantic relationship (and possible child) with a military officer, evoke thoughts of the Diana and Charles story.

The following collection of clips, courtesy of YouTube, provides a good sense of the events that lay the foundation for the ensuing intriguing drama in "Catherine."

British actress Julia Ormond does a decent job portraying the titular character but is a bit low-key for the role of a woman who is essentially sold, finds herself married to a small pox scarred man who would rather dress up and drink with his real-life soldiers than spend time with her, has a stable adulterous affair with a stallion of a military officer who is exiled for it, and ultimately successfully wages a civil war without having to engage in the horse trading that such battles often require.

Ormond's arguably best scene has her using an amusing gender-bending method to curry the favor of her husband. Peter's response is wonderfully entertaining.

Fellow British actress (and well-known one-time PLO supporter) Vanessa Redgrave does a better job playing the Auntie Dearest/Monster-in-Law/Empress of a ginormous nation Elizabeth. This performance conveys Redgrave's understanding that it is good to be queen. She also shows her human side when the story calls for doing so.

The also British Reece Dinsdale completes the odder of the two triangles in the film as Grand Duke Peter. His role is fairly minor compared to Catherine and Elizabeth and mainly requires prancing about like the weak-willed petulant man-child that he was. One can also say that Peter suffered the consequences of not backing the right horse.

Much of the drama in the first half relates to Catherine accepting the importance of her role in Russia's future, attempting to win the approval of Elizabeth and the acceptance of Peter while contending with supporters of the Polish princess who is her rival. The degree of that opposition is not especially surprising but still provides great drama.

The second half of the film depicts the early years of Catherine's marriage of not particularly great convenience and events that the death of Elizabeth triggers. This period is when Catherine earns her name and the reputation that supports it.

The footnote to this historic drama is that it achieves the trifecta of being an entertaining and reasonably accurate depiction of a wonderfully strong-willed historical figure who defeats her "neigh" sayers.

Anyone with questions regarding "Catherine" is welcome to email me; you further can find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.