Helen Mirren reigns supreme in HBO’s ‘Catherine the Great’ 


Following the success of “Chernobyl,” HBO and Sky Atlantic brought viewers a new chapter in Russian history, chronicling the life of Catherine the Great in its new miniseries of the same name. “Catherine the Great” joins the ranks among Netflix’s “The Crown” and PBS’s “Victoria,” as HBO’s portrayal of a female European royal. Catherine the Great is a particularly interesting character to bring to life, considering her lack of fame and recognition compared to Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II. In addition to this, while the two British monarchs ascended the throne and navigated their place in patriarchal societies, HBO shows that Catherine fought her way to the top of Russian society and built a new, modern Russian culture in accordance with her beliefs instead of those around her.  

Dame Helen Mirren brilliantly captures both the power and human qualities of the esteemed empress, captivating audiences from the first moment of her opening speech, vowing to bring Russia into the modern era. Much like the characters living in Russian court, audiences, felt a dual sensation of respect and fear of Mirren’s Catherine. After all, Catherine the Great married the heir to the Russian throne and then killed him with the help of her lover to become the sole ruler of the Russian Empire. Not exactly the most heart-warming way to begin a television series. This is exactly what the writers of the show hoped to accomplish, however.  

Catherine’s story is uncommon in history (and subsequently on television dramas), not simply because she is a woman in a position of power, but rather because she exhibits the same blood-thirsty and power hungry nature of every male sovereign of the time. While England’s unmarried queen Elizabeth I is known by history as the “Virgin Queen,” Russia’s unmarried empress lived unapologetically, having however many men in her life as she pleased. Mirren perfectly encapsulated this, commanding every moment of the first episode with her passion, grace and, of course, her stunning gown. Then again,  this is not surprising considering her long list of film and television accolades, including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a BAFTA and a Tony, just to name a few. The sheer fact that a real life queen regarded her talent is proof enough that Ms. Mirren was born to play a queen like Catherine. 

While the history major in me cannot disregard the historical inaccuracies of the drama, especially considering some of the issues Catherine faced in one day in the show happened decades apart in real life, the utter beauty of Mirren’s portrayal combined with the lavish world HBO recreated makes this a must-watch for any drama junkie. You can bet your jewel-adorned crown that I will be tuning in next week to continue the epic saga. 

Rating: 4.5 / 5 

Thumbnail image courtesy of Entertainment Voice

Gino Giansanti is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at gino.giansanti_jr@uconn.edu.

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