Although Marlene Dietrich was a far more glamorous Catherine the Great, closer to the real one was definitely Elizabeth Bergner in this British production from Alexander Korda.
The former Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, one of many small pieces of turf in Germany before that country became a country instead of a geographical expression, pulled off something unique in history. She came as a promised bride to the tsarevitch who in this case was Peter, nephew of the Empress Elizabeth of Russia. Through her own will and genius for intrigue, this Queen Consort, without a drop of royal blood of Russia in her, got to rule Russia and well for over 30 years after deposing her husband. Woman must have done something right.
The film here like the one in Hollywood ends with the deposition and death of the Czar and Catherine taking over. We don't see the regal, confident, and promiscuous empress Catherine was to become. We see her as a shy and overwhelmed German Princess who grows in her role as her husband won't in his. Catherine grows in her character as Elizabeth Bergner does in this part.
Sam Jaffe as Peter is far closer to the mark of the real character of that unfortunate soul than Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. is in this film. Yet Fairbanks gives an extraordinary performance, far from the swashbuckling parts that his father patented on the silent screen. In fact both the Fairbanks were in the UK at the same time. Fairbanks senior gave his farewell screen performance in the Private Life of Don Juan and his son did about seven films for four years of which this is probably his best effort.
The pleasure loving Empress Elizabeth as done by Flora Robson is light years different from Queen Elizabeth in Fire Over England and The Sea Hawk that Robson did later, but still very nicely done.
Alexander Korda perfectly captured the mood and feel of old Romanov Russia as taken over by a usurper, a popular one, but still a usurper.
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