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Series / Catherine the Great

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Catherine the Great is a four-part miniseries that aired in HBO in 2019. It dramatizes the reign of Catherine II, Empress of Russia, focusing particularly on her relationships with her lover Grigori Potemkin and her son, the future Paul I. The series stars Helen Mirren as Catherine, Jason Clarke as Potemkin and Joseph Quinn as her son Paul.

Compare and contrast The Great, a 2020 show about Catherine, but one that takes many more liberties with history.



  • Artistic License – History: The series takes many liberties with history:
    • Some ambiguities in history are made explicit fact in the series:
      • Natalia Alexeievna's is shown to have affair with Andrey Razumovsky, and her child is fathered by him. In reality, it's only known that they had mutual interest in one other.
      • Catherine has a document drawn up making Alexander her successor, and Paul destroys it. All that is known is that Paul feared such a document might exist and planned to destroy it if it did.
      • The epilogue states that Paul's assassination was ordered by Alexander. Historians debate whether Alexander was even involved.
      • Catherine and Potemkin are shown to have secretly married, while this is only suspected by some historians.
      • Potemkin is partially blinded in a brawl with the Orlov brothers, while the real circumstances are unknown.
    • The series portrays Potemkin as leading the siege on Izmail, when in reality it was General Suvorov.
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    • Alexander is shown to still be a young boy at the death of Catherine, but he was actually 19.
    • The epilogue states that Paul ruled for 5 years, but he only ruled for 4 years, 4 months and 4 days.
    • Catherine brags about having learned Russian and looks down on those noblewomen who have not, but there is no mention of the fact that Catherine made French the official language at court. It's implied that everyone speaking English is speaking Russian through Translation Convention.
    • In the series, it is implied that Catherine died in 1793, shortly after the beheading of King Louis XVI during the The French Revolution. The real Catherine the Great died in 1796, a good three years after the French king met his fate.
  • Brainless Beauty: Catherine's favorite when she meets Potemkin is a young, handsome and trivial man. When Catherine asks him to "say something intelligent," he just stammers, causing her to break up with him.
  • Central Theme: The intertwining of power and love.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Potemkin, a celebrated general, wears an eye patch for several years over his blind eye, but ultimately stops wearing it.
  • The Fool: Catherine's court fool appears throughout the series, making pointed commentary and sometimes stirring up trouble. No one finds him funny.
  • Historical Beauty Update: In real life, Catherine and Maria Feodorovna became quite stout in their later years, while they remain perfectly slender and attractive throughout the series.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The epilogue states that Paul reversed most of Catherine's "accomplishments," but modern eyes wouldn't consider many of the policies that Paul reversed to be "accomplishments." For example, he reestablished centralized administrative agencies, increased bureaucratic control in local government, and sought to impose limits on the authority of the nobles.
  • Love at First Sight: Catherine states that she fell in love with Potemkin upon first sight.
  • May–December Romance: Catherine has many affairs with younger men, but she's in advanced age when she takes her final lover, the youthful Zubov.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: While playing billiards with their rival Potemkin, the Orlov brothers suddenly start attacking him. Potemkin fights back, but they ultimately pummel him into unconsciousness and partially blind him.
  • The Queen's Latin: Most Russian characters speak with a British accent rather than a Russian (or French) one.
  • Translation Convention: Russian and/or French are translated into English in both speech and text. It's not clear which is being spoken, because the real Russian court spoke French, but this is never mentioned.