The dynasties of Europe are usually recalled only when they rule major nations for a long time: Plantagenets, Tudors, Stuarts, Hanovarians, Windsors in England; Valois and Bourbon in French; Hapsburg of Austria; Hohenzollern of Prussia and Germany; and Romanov of Russia. The smaller dynasties pop up if they last long enough too: Saxe - Coburg in Belgium (and Bulgaria), Wittelsbach in Bavaria, Holsteins and Bernadottes in Sweden. Occasionally transplanted dynasties are recalled: Hapsburg and Bourbon in Spain.
Less recalled is if the spouse of a royal heir was from a really obscure family. But in the long run the need for new "blood" to continue a dynasty would lead to minor nobility producing wives or husbands for the major dynasties. It was rare for any of the these minor figures to become well known. But Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst did just that. In fact she was to become a great figure in her own time and in modern history. For Sophie became the Tsarina Catherine the Great of Russia.
Two films that came out in 1934 dealt with Catherine's rise to power. One was THE SCARLET EMPRESS by Joseph Von Sternberg (starring Marlene Dietrich, John Lodge, and Sam Jaffe) and the other was THE RISE OF CATHERINE THE GREAT. As pointed out in another review, the two movies each have aspects of the story missed by the other.
Elizabeth Bergner manages to show more of the naiveté of the young Princess brought to Russia to marry the Grand Duke Pyotr (who became Peter III). Peter (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) was the sole male descendant of the Romanovs (except for a cousin who had been dethroned in 1741 by the reigning Empress Elizabeth (Flora Robson) and was held in a prison*). Tsarina Elizabeth was determined to have Peter marry and have an heir. She chose Sophie because of dynastic claims to Swedish and Baltic territories of the Romanov Family dealing with their Holstein blood connections - connections that Anhalt-Zerbst shared.
Both movies show how Elizabeth and Catherine (her name was changed to Catherine when she married Peter, as her Lutheran religion was changed to Greek Orthodoxy) treat each other with wariness, but gradually get to see each other as an ally. This is particularly true because Peter was mentally ill. However, while this is shown in THE SCARLET EMPRESS, it is not true about THE RISE. Fairbanks is shown to be mentally ill, but a type of affection rises between him and Catherine every now and then - which is dashed by his paranoia and suspicions.
The performance of Bergner is quite charming (as normal) in this film, and one gets a feeling of sadness that is not historically accurate. Here as history marches on, Catherine regretfully joins in the overthrow of her husband, and watches helplessly while he is taken away to his doom. The actual situation in the overthrow of Peter was closer to the cynical contempt shown by Marlene Dietrich towards her mad husband.
Flora Robson portrays Tsarina Elizabeth as a tired, dying woman, desperate to try to save the dynasty and her nation but aware of the rotten material she has to work with. It's as good a performance as the two leads.
I might add that you should note two brief supporting performances for a historical reason. Gerald Du Maurier (Daphne's father) was a leading stage star in England from the 1900s to 1930s. Irene Vanbrugh was a female star of the 1890s - 1920s (she was in the original THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST). Both play roles in this version - Irene Vanbrugh as Bergner's mother. It is very rare to see either of them on film.
*The cousin, Ivan VI, was imprisoned for life - and gradually lost his reason. The guards were told to kill him if there was ever an attempt to rescue the Tsar. When Peter III was overthrown, an adventurer attempted to rescue Ivan and restore him to his throne. Ivan was slain by his guards before the adventurer could reach him.
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