Dame Helen Mirren adds another portrayal of a historical figure to her distinguished career with a sparky turn as Catherine The Great. The difference between TV and film used to be worlds apart, but in recent years that line has become intensely blurred. Twenty years ago, this would have been made as a lavishly produced motion picture that screaming Oscar Gold. Instead, we get treated to a lavishly produced three-hour mini-series that wouldn’t feel out of place on the big screen. It’s not just TV; it’s HBO.
Empress of Russia for more than three decades, the life of Catherine The Great is one filled with promise for meaty drama. Focusing on her latter years, Mirren is (predictably) fantastic. I’m not sure she’s capable of being inadequate in anything, even her Fast & Furious cameos with her apples and pears accent is a hoot. Here, she gives her all to a figure frequently speculated over, yet Mirren remains true to what we know, a formidable, strong, yet fiercely vulnerable woman who was more open-minded than her era would suggest. Ably supported by Jason Clarke, Gina McKee, Richard Roxburgh, and Rory Kinnear (to name a few), it has all the elements for addictive drama.
As expected, HBO spare no expense in all areas, the sets, the costume, the cast, all of it meets the rigorous benchmark of quality demanded by HBO. If you salivated over the finery of Downton Abbey, there are functions, balls, events galore, and it all looks delicious. However, the slow burn pace and diversions into melodrama may prove divisive for some viewers expecting something weightier. Directed by Philip Martin, who helmed episodes of The Crown, and worked with Mirren on Prime Suspect 7, and written by Nigel Williams, who wrote the Elizabeth I mini-series that Mirren starred in back in 1991. Catherine The Great is an elegantly made, stunningly shot series that features another award-worthy turn from a living legend.