45 thoughts on “Catherine the Great: The Frock Flicks Guide

  1. Not at all connected with Catherine, but I remember writing a thesis in high school about Benjowski (yes, I’m Polish) and I think he is THE person who deserves a big TV series at least! A Hungarian, exiled in Siberia for fighting for Poland, he established a big community of political prisoners there (on a land which he won when playing chess with the governor of Kamchatka!), he then escaped by stealing one of the greatest Russian ships and went on it to Japan, discovering some new bays and islands before Bering did. At the end of his life he established a colony on Madagaskar for France, but then changed his mind and started fighting for freedom of the locals and died during one of the battles. He is still considered a national hero in Madagaskar. I know, it sounds all unbelievable, but that’s history! It’s kind of nice to find Benjowski here :)

    1. There was a good film about Benjowski. Nicole Heester played Catherine the Great.
      Look on Youtube for: “Die unfreiwilligen Reisen des Moritz August Benjowski” in 1974.
      Some are even singing in your language I assume. A lot better then other German productions. Quadflieg played Benjowski with a good skill, I think.

  2. “Meeting of Minds” — that brings back memories! I loved that show. Even after it’s TV run was over, one college professor used its premise — for two historical periods, we students had to pick a character, research him/her, then be part of a meeting of minds conversation.

  3. If Liam Neeson isn’t Grigori Potemkin to Helen Mirren’s Catherine, I will be extremely dissapointed.

  4. I’ve been obsessed with the pretender Tarakanova since I first heard the story…I even started a screenplay ten years ago, but realized there are so few reliable English sources it’s basically impossible. It’s funny to be reminded about it.

  5. Shadow of the Eagle is a beautiful film, a joint British-Italian production filmed in Italy, including Venice, with striking black and white photography. Richard Greene is a bit too nice (though he does a good turn as a man’s man in scenes where he’s commanding or fighting) – a more dangerously brooding actor like James Mason would have been great – but the Italian actress playing Tarakanova is lovely as an ingenue.

      1. Season 2 & 3 are on Amazon now. 100% improvement on costumes & hair, with same great storytelling! It’s the best Catherine the Great production I’ve seen, though wish it had more shagging ☹️

  6. Catherine was also played by the German actress, Brigitte Horney, in the 1943 adult fairy tale, Munchhausen, opposite Hans Albers. The first part of the youtube clip below shows the formal meeting of the Czarina and the Rittmeister.

    1. Thanks! I tried to look up info about that film, but couldn’t get a handle on whether Catherine really was in it, or to what degree it was fantasy (I love the 1988 film, haven’t seen this one).

      1. I’ve got on DVD if you want to borrow it. Transfer could likely be arranged through your confederates if direct is not possible.

  7. I have never seen the movie Madsalune, but I read the book by Carit Etlar in school. It is about a smugler named Madsalune and it’s mostly set in Denmark. I don’t remember Catherine the Great playind a big part in it. I didn’t even know that there was a Madsalune movie, so it’s not well known even in Denmark.

  8. I have some information for The Ring of the Empress. It’s (loosely?) based on a the play “Spielereien einer Kaiserin” by Max Dauthendey and seems to end with the marriage and Catherine sending the heir to the monastery. In this movie, Catherine is a sutler or victualer who becomes the mistress of a Russian general Menschikoff and then Peter I.’s wife.

    I found some contemporary German criticism. It received mixed audience reviews for plot, costumes and acting, harsh criticism for the historical inaccuracy.

  9. I just have one question: WTF IS THAT MAN THING NEXT TO MARLENE DIETRICH?!
    It’s so creepy/weird. Definitely not lending to a “young and naive” vibe, as you said.

    1. Yep, that’s Russian Orthodox wood carving for you. Maybe a tortured Christ figure or one of their many saints that were martyred before becoming one 😉

    1. Yeah, the love interest is reeeaaally sexy. I looked him up in other films but he was nothing like he was in this. Too bad! You’re right on the money, except I’d add there’s an expressionist/socialist element to the sets that is really special and interesting.

      Also, Dietrich is FAAAAABULOUS.

  10. Scarlet Empress was on TCM recently. Fun, but probably not great history. You guys have got to read George Macdonald Freaser’s “Hollywood History of the World.”

  11. The Scarlet Empress has little to do with history and lots to do with von Sternberg’s obsession with Marlene, which pays off big time with the insane sets, and beyond fabulous costumes by Travis Banton. The Eagle is one of Valentino’s better films, quite swashbuckling, and, if I recall properly, Catherine is played with sly humor by Ms. Dressler.

  12. Are my eyes deceiving me or is the gown that Catherine Zeta-Jones wearing in the 1996 version of Catherine The Great repurposed for the 2005 version? Because the embroidery on the stomacher looks identical too me.

  13. Please give Russian Ark another try! The massive ballroom scene is not until the end.
    Plus Anastasia and her siblings running around in fairy dresses around the Czar & Czarina – quite enchanting.

    The film was groundbreaking in that it had one of the first films using a single 96-minute Steadicam sequence shot – all of the actors and technical crew did everything on cue in one go! I saw the behind the scenes and I think they only a had a couple of tries before the finished piece.

    Catherine looked the best in her fur/velvet? cloak pacing through the snow in the fading natural light.

    But if you knit, or do any crafts, that is good to do while waiting to get to the opulent ballroom scene with live orchestra. (I had my sketchbook)

    Otherwise, sadly yes, the conversations between the deceased men are sleep inducing.

  14. I LOVED Young Catherine when it aired, I recorded it on VHS and then watched the tape to death. I have always been on the lookout for a good DVD transfer but I’ve yet to find one.

    I also really enjoyed Ekaterina. I think it was the same company but they did one about Sophia Palaiologina that was pretty good too.

  15. Velikaya is really nice – it actually aired simultaneously with Ekaterina and the latter has a more soap-opery feel, though it doesn’t shy from some nastier stories. Really sorry Velikaya didn’t get a second season, but eh, that’s Russian TV for you. :(

    There are actually more Russian films with Catherine the Great, for instance in Gogogl’s Night before Christmas. Blacksmith Vakula rides a demon to Saint-Petersburg to ask Catherine for her shoes because his girlfriend said so. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_Eve_(Gogol)

  16. Wow, I had no idea there had been so many movies about CG. (Dietrich as the young Sophia/Catherine is odd, but then Dietrich was born looking about 36.) But I just reserved the documentary with Emily Bruni! She looks as I imagine CG: not pretty, but striking and intelligent. Now must await possible Corset Weirdness.

    1. Am midway through the CtG docudrama and, yes, the corsets appeared suspiciously chemise-free. There’s also streaming hair where not appropriate. I can’t speak with authority about the rest of the wardrobe, but Bruni looks terrific in the Imperial Guards uniform when she’s staging her coup, and the transvestite ball (Empress Elizabeth liked dressing up as a guy) is impressive. All in all, the actual historical account here seems pretty accurate and the staged scenes of Catherine, her awful husband, Elizabeth, and various politicians and courtiers/lovers, are well acted.

  17. They really never focus on anything but her coming to court and rise to power, do they?

    1. Ekaterina Seasons 1-3 (the only seasons available as of now, on Amazon…Season 3 ends very obviously implying a Season 4 is coming & will focus on her reign from 1776 onwards,) focuses on everything from her arrival in Russia to around 1776. It’s the best of all the Catherine the Great bio-pics I’ve seen. Season 1 had a minimal budget, so the costumes & hair are 80% on point. That all gets fixed in Season 2 & 3.

      Much better than the also Russian produced 2015 miniseries which had a really slowly paced & uneven storyline, wooden acting, hideous costumes & hair…great, legit shooting locations though. I’m sticking with it.

      Personally, I prefer the time period of her husband’s taking the throne up to about 1780, when she’s older & it’s all just one war or pretender after another.

  18. I saw “Meeting of Minds” on PBS when I was a senior in high school (yeah, I’m dating myself) and enjoyed it, though I did note that Jayne Meadows almost always seemed to be playing the female roles. I suppose it was partially for budget reasons, though. I wonder if there’s a DVD anywhere.

    As for the subject at hand, I do believe “Young Catherine” is available on DVD via Amazon.

  19. Since you mention the British documentary; my Russian history professor would occasionally show us bits of a documentary series available on youtube.
    It’s about all the Romanovs, not specifically Catherine the Great, but I really liked the look of the actress they got for older Catherine. At the time, this was the first Catherine portrayal I’d seen that actually looked like her portraits. I’ve yet to pay much attention to the costumes but I think they look fairly decent for a documentary.

    The episode about Catherine can be seen here: https://youtu.be/ii7HgNJpkMQ
    skip ahead to about 19:20 to get a good look at the actress who portrays older Catherine

    1. Rowan, thanks so much for the link; I agree about the casting. In fact, the actress reminds me of a younger Angela Merkel. One of the better docudramas I’ve seen, and this time I noted the similarities between C the G and Elizabeth I: both of them intellectuals, patriots, pragmatists, and good judges of character. (I am recovering from surgery, and find history and sports the best distractions.)

  20. I’m German and looked “Benjowski” (1974) on YT.

    As I said. the miniseries is not too bad.
    The expenditure on locations is just impressive. I don’t know what the Polish will think about the uniforms of Benjowski’s troops, but the Russian troops are not looking too bad. Some of the actors were great like Christan Quadflieg, Günter Strack (he was often in such productions) and Georges Wilson, although I didn’t liked Nicole Heesters as the empress and Matthias Habich as Orlov (he dominated German TV during the 1970s often in the leading role – don’t know why). The ordinary clothes were looking good for a 1970s TV-production (if you compare it with the contemporary Trenck-miniseries and other stuff), but the court costumes were more typical for the period and please don’t observe the hairstyle! But weapons were looking well.

    It’s important to note, that the miniseries was a German and French production, which was typical for German and French TV in the 1970s (“Wallenstein” and “Richelieu” were two more remarkable productions of this period). Some actores like Georges Wilson were in “Benjowski” and in more famous movies like “The three musketeers” (Lesters masterpiece).

  21. I saw The Rise it’s quite nice even if most costumes aren’t But it’s superior success during it’s original release was that the germans threw stones at the movie theaters that were exhibiting it because Elisabeth Bergner the Leading Actress was Jewish
    One may watch it for great performances from Flora Douglas and Elisabeth but not for the costumes

    1. I would love to see Bergner in something/anything. Her rep is excellent and, unlike most of these actresses, she is not glam or beautiful. Catherine certainly wasn’t, and so far only Emily Bruni has resembled my idea of her: a fresh young princess type, bit of a nerd, who grows into a commanding leader, still a bit of a nerd. (I have watched Dietrich as young Catherine with those bleached-blond ringlets–unintentionally hilarious.) Some more Bergner images: https://www.virtual-history.com/movie/person/662/elisabeth-bergner

Comments are closed.

Discover more from Frock Flicks

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue Reading