The last Russian woman of power changed the way the game was played. But in an era of patriarchy she pushed against the status quo while still maintaining a healthy appetite which in many circles. This is what has survived all the rumors oddly enough. In a day and age when Crimea has come under the aspect of the news again in terms of Russian perception as an important port city what Catherine The Great’s dexterity and at times forthrightness reflects in her early Ideas of giving up serfdom are quite forward thinking. While Alexander’s tendency plays into  the thrust of his grandmother’s ultimate plan, it is her life and the way she lived it that is dynamic but also fallible. The details of her former husband that met his fate for her to assume the throne is still mysterious but how she governs is not. This is the effective perspective of “Catherine The Great” which both administers her strengths but also her faults.

Helen Mirren, as she has done with many characters over the years, understands the aspect of women in power but also the tricks of ambiguity and antiquity and the problems it creates. As an aging actress this has provided her most telling performance perhaps since “The Queen”. She has had fun playing others but the aspect of loss and gain here but also a more mature relationship speaks to the essence of trust versus jealousy. This is something that completed encompasses her relationship with Potemkin whom she first becomes enamored with many years earlier as the mini-series seems to span a good 15-20 years.

Jason Clarke gives an interesting portrayal of Potemkin. The problem is that as the younger version where his young features currently still show, the character never fully vanishes. It is only as he grows more grizzled halfway through the miniseries that his characterization truly becomes rich. The mustache and gravelly deliver become more natural. There is a hurt but also a love in his devotion to Catherine despite his want to be on the battlefield versus being at the palace with Catherine. In a short span when he brings Crimea to her feet and she witnesses it as her domain, it becomes a very intimate story wide in its scope but personal in its impact.

There are other supporting characters that key into the proceedings. Richard Roxburgh plays one of her early lovers who basically pushes against her rule. He disappears in a haze which is never fully specific. Catherine’s Minister Of War Olaf who helped put her in power is an interesting dichotomy as his loyalty shifts and the story moves forward. The pathetic part of the story is Catherine’s son Paul who simply reminds Catherine of the err of his father’s ways, not necessarily that he would be a bad leader but Catherine senses something off in him, that gut instinct that tells her something her advisers can’t. The epilogue proves that.

Politics aside “Catherine The Great” is also an interesting diatribe in showing the essence of sexuality and the reality of power without pretense. One of the aspects that does reflect is the absence of Russian accents or even Russian actors. Granted this is a miniseries made by Sky and BBC in congruence with HBO but unless one was told it was Russia and Catherine The Great, it could quite frankly be any monarchy save for the performances of Mirren and Clarke.

“Catherine The Great” has the lushness and texture of most HBO series with a leading lady destined to receive said due praises for her work. But at its heart, it is a love story, power ratcheting though that it may be, that is engaging but also exceptional to the status quo that human nature does not change.


By Tim Wassberg

Cable TCA Summer Press Tour: Ethan Hawke On Literature, Modern Perception & Moby Dick [Encore]

Ethan Hawke Starbuck Moby Dick

Ethan Hawke stars as Starbuck in Encore's "Moby Dick"

The Inside Reel’s Tim Wassberg caught up with Ethan Hawke to discuss his role as Starbuck in the upcoming Encore mini-series, “Moby Dick”. The series, based on Herman Melville’s classic novel, stars William Hurt as Captain Ahab. Tim asked Hawke to discuss his character as well as his relationship with Ahab through modern eyes. Hawke had this to say:

Starbuck is a person I found very interesting because it is often hard to play the good guy….the person who is morally just…because you kind of know what he is going to do. People with bizarre brain waves you never know how [they are going to function]. Bad guys are so fun to play because you never know what they are going to do. They could do a nice thing. They could do a cruel thing. What is fascinating about Starbuck, who is kind of the moral figure in the book, is that he really doesn’t do the right thing. It’s actually in his silence, in his inability to stop the inevitable. You ask questions about the book? Why is the book so great is that it is so open for interpretation. There is so many different things people can love about it. I might love one aspect of it that won’t even make it on somebody else’s radar while I might miss some bigger point. [That said] I loved trying to play this character who had a great respect for his leader but actually, when all is said and done, knew that he was the one person who truly knew they were off track….and he couldn’t act [on it]. There is a great chapter in the book where he thinks and knows that he should actually kill Ahab…but he’s not a killer. It’s interesting because it is his own innate goodness, so to speak, that prevents him from doing the just thing, which is what makes it so wonderful and complex from my point of view.”

“Moby Dick” premieres Monday, August 1 at 8 p.m. ET on Encore.