Thursday, February 14, 1991
Copyright 1991


History, Just For Fun: ‘YOUNG CATHERINE’
John Voorhees

Not all this month’s new TV movies are concerned with contemporary psychopaths – two premiering Sunday are steeped in history: TNT’s four-hour miniseries, “Young Catherine,” at 5 and 7 on cable, and PBS’ “Brother Future,” a “Wonderworks” movie at 10 a.m. on KCTS-TV.

“Young Catherine” is the kind of costume melodrama you didn’t think they made anymore – but they did (at least Turner network did), and it works surprisingly well, thanks to astute casting and lavish filming in the U.S.S.R.

The “Young Catherine” of the title eventually would become Catherine the Great, but this movie stops at the point where she becomes the Empress of the Russias and chronicles her formative years after she left her native Prussia to become engaged to the Grand Duke Peter, destined to rule Russia after the death of the Empress Elizabeth, his aunt. There were plenty of obstacles, including Catherine’s scheming mother (who got herself thrown out of Russia), and the fact Empress Elizabeth was more interested in a male heir for the throne than in the future of Young Catherine. The worst obstacle was Peter himself, more fascinated with playing soldier than in having marital relations.

Scriptwriter Chris Bryant and director Michael Anderson want to make all this history as entertainingly palatable as possible and the result is great fun, rather like and old M-G-M costume spectacle from that studio’s heyday.

The supporting cast is fine: Vanessa Redgrave has a ball as the Empress Elizabeth, Franco Nero plays a power broker, Marthe Keller is Catherine’s mother and Christopher Plummer plays the British ambassador who befriends Catherine.

The central roles are equally well-performed, beginning with Julia Ormond as Catherine, Reece Dinsdale as the nutty Grand Duke Peter and Mark Frankel as the dashing soldier who falls in love with Catherine. All three are talented British performers whose experience ranges from Shakespeare to contemporary dramas – and viewers may remember Ormond’s startling performance as the drugged-out student in “Traffik,” the dynamite British series seen on PBS.

The second two hours of “Young Catherine” airs at 5 and 7 p.m. Monday, and all four hours will be repeated at 9 a.m. Feb 21 and 11 a.m. Feb 24.