Monarchy has certainly paid off for Helen Mirren, who has an Oscar (“The Queen“), an Emmy (“Elizabeth I”) and a Tony (“The Audience”) just for playing British queens. But does it pay off just as well for her in “Catherine the Great,” which takes her from the British throne to the seat of power in 18th century Russian? It premiered on HBO on October 21, and critics have been weighing in.
As of this writing “Catherine the Great” has a MetaCritic score of 55 based on seven reviews counted: two positive and five somewhat mixed. But over on Rotten Tomatoes, which rates films on a pass/fail basis, the four-part limited series is rated 80% fresh, suggesting that most of the mixed reviews lean more positive than negative. The RT critics’ consensus says, “Helen Mirren delivers a commanding performance in ‘Catherine the Great,’ a sumptuously rendered drama that’s only real shortcoming is its limited runtime.”
Indeed, the historical drama has Mirren to thank for its greatest praise. She’s being called “astonishing,” “regal and saucy and steely.” Her casting is “a smart choice that proves its worth every time she’s onscreen.” The critical ambivalence comes when reviewers regard the rest of the series that surrounds her. This take on Catherine the Great shows a “lack of ambition” and leaves “unplumbed depths.” Though Mirren is “amazing,” the series “missed an opportunity to let her tell a great story.”
But as pointed out above, Mirren is an awards magnet, and though “Catherine the Great” is on the bubble in our Golden Globe odds for Best TV Movie/Limited Series, Mirren ranks second for Best Movie/Limited Actress, behind only reigning Emmy champ Michelle Williams (“Fosse/Verdon”). Mirren is also a likely nominee at the SAG Awards according to our latest predictions. To date, Mirren already has three Golden Globes and five SAG Awards crowding her mantel. Long may she reign.
Check out some of the reviews for “Catherine the Great” below, and join the discussion on this and more with your fellow TV fans here in our forums.
Ann Donahue (IndieWire): “Nothing is subtle about it: not the acting, not the directing by Philip Martin, not the production design, not the costumes. It’s full-tilt scenery-chewing glamour in every frame of every scene … And, for the most part, it works. Mirren is in full DAME HELEN MIRREN mode, regal and saucy and steely by turn.”
Niv M. Sultan (Slant): “Catherine’s lack of change, along with her consistent ability to outmaneuver her political opponents, robs the series of momentum despite the astonishing range of Mirren and Clarke’s performances … While Catherine the Great is utterly mesmerizing to take in, beneath its aesthetic splendor lie vast, unplumbed depths.”
Keri Lumm (Paste): “Prepare to see cruel killing and lots of sex. Notably, while the show is about Catherine’s sex life, they don’t show her having sex but just allude to it. Her best friend however, has lots of sex with a man who wants her. To repeat though: Helen Mirren is amazing. I just think they missed an opportunity to let her tell a great story.”
Caroline Framke (Variety): “The casting of Mirren in the role, which follows the Russian empress in the embattled latter years of her life, is a smart choice that proves its worth every time she’s onscreen … And yet: stepping back from the series’ four episodes reveals a disappointing lack of ambition in portraying such a titanic force’s final days.”
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