It is the Year for Russian History on HBO. Following this spring's miniseries Chernobyl, the hit dramatization of the 1986 nuclear catastrophe in the USSR, HBO is bringing forth Catherine The Great. Starring Helen Mirren as the 18th-century Russian monarch, the four-part series is expected to arrive this fall.
The real Catherine the Great was born Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg in 1729. The daughter of Christian August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, she was part of the ruling German family of Anhalt in Prussia. She was married off to the prospective tsar Peter of Holstein-Gottorp, who eventually became Peter III, as part of a deal to strengthen Russia and Prussia against Austrian power. She went on to become Russia's longest-ruling female leader, crowned Empress of Russia in 1762, and ruling until her death in 1796.
But Catherine did not become monarch just out of a series of unfortunate accidents. She was not like Victoria or Elizabeth, both of whom, through no fault of their own, found themselves moved into the line of succession due to death in childbirth and abdication. Princess Sophie straight up organized a coup d'état against her husband, Peter III. She had always detested him anyway, and it made her the sole leader of the country. Her leadership was not a lazy one. Catherine the Great was not content to sit in her palaces playing favorites, though she famously did plenty of that as well. Instead, she single-handledly went out and reformed the country into the one we know it as today.
She also oversaw massive expansion of territories, many of which are still in the Russian "sphere of influence" today, including significant parts of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (which was ruled by her former lover, King Stanisław), the Crimean Khanate, the territories of Novorossiya along the coasts of the Black and Azov Seas, and even parts of Alaska, establishing a "Russian America." The trailer suggests fans will get a look at at least some of these conquests as part of the miniseries. The synopsis says the series "charts the latter years of Catherine’s 34-year reign, as she builds Russia’s reputation as one of the great powers of Europe."
According to Deadline, the idea for the miniseries was brought to producer Origin Pictures by Mirren herself. She's already played monarchs to great acclaim, and has an Oscar and a Golden Globe, among her many awards. The series was eventually snapped up by U.K. network Sky, who partnered with HBO on Chernobyl as well.
The trailer puts Mirren front and center, but she's not the only name fans will recognize on the cast list. Mirren's costars include Jason Clarke (Chappaquiddick), Joseph Quinn (Les Misérables), Gina McKee (Bodyguard), Rory Kinnear (Brexit: The Uncivil War), Richard Roxburgh (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Kevin McNally (Unforgotten), and Sam Palladio (Nashville).
Catherine The Great is slated to air this fall and is expected to be part of HBO's move to showing prestige TV series on Mondays.