Catherine the Great (Blu-ray) (2019)

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Released 4-Dec-2019

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category TV Miniseries Reversible Cover
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2019
Running Time 219:46
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Philip Martin

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Helen Mirren
Jason Clarke
Rory Kinnear
Gina McKee
Kevin McNally
Richard Roxburgh
Joseph Quinn
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Rupert Gregson-Williams

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Linear PCM 48/24 2.0
English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     In 1762 Catherine (Helen Mirren), later to be known to history as Catherine the Great, deposed her husband the Emperor Peter III (who was killed shortly afterwards) and took the throne of Russia with the help of the army and the Orlov brothers, Alexi (Kevin McNally) and Grigory (Richard Roxburgh), who was also Catherine’s lover. German born Catherine has many enemies; her program of wanting to free the serfs alienates the serf owning aristocracy, the loyalty of sections of the army is doubtful and her closest advisor, Minister Panin (Rory Kinnear), is conspiring rather too much with Catherine’s son Prince Paul (Joseph Quinn), to regain his father’s throne. Catherine is no virgin queen and has had a succession of lovers. When her closest friend, the Countess Bruce (Gina McKee), brings Catherine into contact with the lowly Lieutenant Grigory Potemkin (Jason Clarke) the attraction is immediate which brings predictable reactions from the Orlov brothers.

     Potemkin joins the army fighting the Turks and spends two years away from Catherine, earning promotion and accolades. On his return to St Petersburg Catherine and Potemkin embark upon a tempestuous relationship while in the countryside an illiterate peasant persuades the serfs he is Peter III and fosters unrest until captured by Potemkin and executed. Most of Catherine’s Council, including Minister Panin, favour close alliances with Europe while Catherine and Potemkin dream of a Russian Empire stretching to the Black Sea, which comes to fruition when Potemkin, in a diplomatic coup, persuades the Tatars to accept Russian overlordship. Potemkin is now very much in the ascendency and Catherine dismisses Alexi Orlov and Minister Panin from her Council. Prince Paul, after his first wife died in childbirth, has remarried and fathered a grandson, Alexander, whom Catherine adores although she continues to humiliate and marginalise Paul at every opportunity, even intending to make Alexander, not Paul, her heir. With a grandson, the building of Sebastopol and an empire in the Crimea plus Potemkin as advisor, lover and head of the army and navy, Catherine seems secure. But there is always another war, and both old and new enemies remain active, and nothing lasts forever.

     Catherine the Great was written by Nigel Williams who previously had written another TV mini-series about another queen in Elizabeth I (2005), which also starred Helen Mirren. Catherine ruled Russia for 35 years; it was a tempestuous period during which Russia carved out an empire, Catherine took numerous lovers while facing revolt and opposition in Russia. With such a broad canvass a four hour mini-series could not hope to cover the intricacies of her life, the events and personalities of the period so Williams has chosen to write Catherine the Great as a costume romance epic where not only Catherine but just about everyone else is jumping into bed with everyone else, focussing on the torrid love story between Catherine and Potemkin. Thus Catherine the Great falls short as a historical drama; for every line like “there are unscrupulous people in Russia, I am one of them” (Catherine) there is chunky dialogue about love such as “I conquered all this just for you” (Potemkin – paraphrased, I admit), and lots of soulful gazing into another’s eyes amid arguments. Helen Mirren as Catherine is as impervious and regal as she can be, with a fierce waspish tongue; (she was nominated for a Golden Globe for the role (and who did win an Oscar playing another monarch in The Queen (2006)) but I question whether as written she is much like the real Catherine. And until the final episode there are few glimpses of the political and personal pressures of being a woman and ruler of Russia. Indeed, it does not help for historical accuracy that the script keeps referring to “Germany” as a political entity and the “German” ambassador; Germany in this period was a collection of German speaking states which were not unified into “Germany” for almost another 100 years. But, perhaps I was expecting too much.

     Catherine the Great is a Sky original TV mini-series which consists of four episodes that are split between two Blu-rays.

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Transfer Quality


     Catherine the Great is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, in 1080p using the MPEG 4 AVC code.

     There are some magnificent sets in the series, all gilt, gold and glitz, but a lot of scenes occur in dark rooms in palaces lit by candles, at night or in the gloomy outdoors of a Russian winter (locations in Latvia and Lithuania standing in for Russia) when detail, and shadow detail, is indistinct. Close-ups are however firm, skin tones natural. Due to the darkness of many of the scenes there is a lot of distracting glare when the window and light is behind the actor, the contrast immediate and noticeable when the camera angle changes and places the actor in front of wood panelling or drapes. I noticed no marks or artefacts.

     English subtitles are available.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     English LPCM 2.0 and DTS HD-MA 5.1 are the audio choices. The default is the LPCM.

     The LPCM 2.0 is surround encoded and sounds very good while the DTS 5.1 is, not surprisingly, more enveloping and seems slightly louder. In either track dialogue is clear while effects, such as thunderous horses’ hooves, marching feet, cannons or fireworks came over loud and clear. The score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is robust and grandiose, suiting the series. The sub-woofer added rumble mostly to the sounds of battle.

     I did not notice any lip synchronization issues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     There are no extras except a reversible cover.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     Blu-rays of Catherine the Great look to be the same in all regions.


     With only four episodes of less than an hour each Catherine the Great could hardly cover the life of Catherine, or even the many lovers and incidents of her reign. What we get in the mini-series instead is the love story between Catherine and Potemkin (the series also suggests that they were secretly married, for which there is no evidence as far as I know). However, Helen Mirren is excellent and the mini-series includes some stunning visuals and sumptuous sets which may be enough for fans of historical romances to enjoy the series.

     The video is often gloomy and glary, alternating with glitz and gold sets, the audio is fine. No extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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