The Rise of Catherine the Great

Synopsis: In 1745 a German princess, renamed Catherine, arrives to marry Grand Duke Peter of Russia, whom she initially likes. But his suspicious, unstable nature gradually estranges them, and Peter finds solace with pretty courtiers. Catherine invents her own (fictitious) lovers, temporarily improving matters. Alas, accession to the throne brings out the worst in Peter, and loyal Catherine is urged to assume power.
Genre: Biography, Drama
Production: Criterion Collection
95 min

- Well, what do you want?

- Nothing.

Then what are you doing here?

Just came to say good-bye.

Well, that's easy. Good-bye.

And to wish you

a very happy marriage.

- I'm not getting married.

- I'm afraid you are.

The lady has already arrived.

And Ogarev is here to fetch you.


To the devil with you!

And Ogarev!

And the empress with you!

What am I, a child

to be fetched and married...

and ordered about

by a parcel of women?

Heir to the throne.

Heir to a baby's rattle

and a box of toys!

Get out! Out of here, all of you!

Go on! Get out!

All of you, out of here!

Didn't you hear me, Orlov?

- You need one friend.

- Friend!

I-I'm sorry, Grigory.

Well, i-it's these women.

The empress treating me

like a half-witted child.

Sending to fetch me home

to marry some... some girl...

Since you must marry

some time or other...

wouldn't it be wiser

to face it and get it over?

But I loathe

the whole idea of marriage.

Watched on. Spied on!

Peter, you must learn to control yourself.

I'm always telling you.

Remember that one day

you will rule Russia.


Does it take such a fine character

to rule Russia?

Look at my aunt, the empress.

If she weren't on the throne

she'd be on the streets.

Russia knows it

and Russia loves it.

To the most shameless rake

that ever wore a petticoat...


empress of all the Russias.

Her Imperial Majesty...


Empress of all the Russias!

That's all right, ladies.

So you've been trying to upset

my plans again, Bestujhev.

I've brought this girl

all the way from Germany...

and the marriage will take place

whether you like it or not.

- But when I think Your Majesty is wrong...

- Shut up!

You've no business to think I'm wrong.

I'm not wrong!

Shut up, I tell you!

That's enough!

Get out!

Bestujhev! Bestujhev!

- If you could see yourself!

- I wish to resign Your Majesty's service.


They will be married in three months.

The girl has to change

her religion, of course...

and she must have a new name.

Let's see. Alexandra.

- Alexandra?

- Why not Alexandra?

Such a great name

for a slip of a girl.

Call her Alexandra, if you like.

I prefer Catherine.

All right.

You see how reasonable I am?

Let the little one

be called Catherine.

Couldn't we stop for a moment?

The empress and the grand duke

are waiting for us.

Yes, I know, but Russia

just takes my breath away.

The country's so vast...

the corridors in the palace

are so endless.

I have the feeling we lived

in a hut in Germany.

We lived at the castle in Stettin,

Lieutenant Orlov.

Pull yourself together, please.

And don't forget the deep curtsy

before the empress.

She might then give you her hand to kiss,

or she might embrace and kiss you.

Kiss me?

But how shall I know

which is the grand duke?

- He will stand at the empress's right.

- Yes.

- Is he as tall as you?

- Taller, Your Highness.


- Shall I just shake hands with him?

- He might kiss your hand.

- Let him kiss your hand.

- Yes.

Don't ask any more questions.

Now, hold yourself up.

Shoulders back. Look at me.


Why aren't you in full dress?

To meet a couple

of country cousins?

To meet the girl

you're going to marry.

- But I'm not.

- The throne must have an heir.

- The throne has an heir.

- Yes, but you won't live forever.

And if you don't marry

and have a son, I must.

Please do.

Which of your lovers do you propose

to make an honest man?

Hold your tongue

and do as you're told!

- I won't.

- You will marry the Princess Anhalt-Zerbst!

- I'm off!

- You'll stay where you are!

I won't marry her, and you can do

whatever you like about it!

- Peter! Peter!

- Your heart. Your Majesty!

Quick, the doctor!

Bring some vinegar.

- What is it?

- I think I'd better inquire, madam.

- What happened?

- The empress fainted.

- The grand duke doesn't want to marry the girl.

- A family scandal.

He doesn't want her.

Her Majesty has fainted, and His Highness

has retired to his apartment.

I'll, uh... I'll try to find out

what has happened.

Excuse me.

It's all over.

We can pack our bags.

- Why?

- The grand duke doesn't want you.

- Why?

- I don't know.

Perhaps you're not

good-looking enough.

But, Mother,

he's not even seen me.


Go to the grand duke...

and tell him he either marries

the Princess Anhalt-Zerbst at once...

or he thinks it over in a fortress.

In six months time

I will ask him again.

I'll see the empress.

This marriage is her idea.

- She must bring this young man to reason.

- Oh, no, Mother.

You won't do that.

You can't force him to marry me.

Oh, no. Please, let's go home.

Let's go home immediately, I beg of you.

- I'll see the empress.

- Mother. Mother, please!

I won't stay, Mother.

Offiicer! Offiicer!

Please show me the way out.

- Out where?

- Out! Out of the palace.

Out of the town.

Out of the whole barbarian country.

- Why? What's happened?

- He insulted me!

- Who?

- The Grand Duke Peter.

- Oh, that fellow.

- You know him?

- Oh, yes, I know him.

- Oh, then perhaps you know

why he refuses to marry me?

Why he refuses even to see me?


Well, perhaps they suggested

some other German princesses to him.


Maybe he prefers one of them.

- Which one?

- Well, there's the Mecklenburg princess.

- Oh, that's impossible.

- Why?

Because she has a cavalry mustache

and rabbit's teeth.

Well, then there's the, uh...

there's the Oldenburg princess.

Which one? Which one?

There are four! Four old maids!

I know them all, and I tell you...

I am far the best

and far the prettiest too.

And the most ambitious as well.

So you want to be empress.

- So you want to govern Russia?

- Nonsense!

I don't care about

becoming an empress.

I don't care about governing Russia.

I only care for the grand duke.

Why should you care about the grand duke?

You don't even know him.

Why? I've been told about him

ever since I was born.

Since I was 1 0, I've always been told

I was to be his wife.

I've thought about him.

I've dreamed about him.

Now I love him,

and now he refuses me.

If all you've lost is the grand duke...

I should call it a lucky escape.

- Are you his friend?

- I?

- His worst enemy.

- What have you got against him?


He's a bad friend, a dangerous enemy.

He's cruel, suspicious, disloyal, vain.

He mistrusts everyone...

including himself.

In a word,

the man's not a gentleman.

How dare you say such a thing

about His Highness.

I think you forget who I am.

I am the princess of Anhalt-Zerbst.

Oh, Your Highness.

Kindly show me

the way out immediately.

Oh, but didn't I come from here?

This is quite right, Your Highness.

Nothing but stairs and corridors

and more stairs.

Oh, but...

are you sure that's the way out?

Oh, yes, Your Highness.

It's the best way out for both of us.

Oh, don't cry. We'll find her

some husband or other.

What's the meaning of this?

Aunt Elisabeth, what was the date

you fixed for our wedding?

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Lajos Biró

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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