Catherine II was the most renowned and the longest-ruling female leader of Russia, reigning from 9 July 1762 until her death in 1796 at the age of 67. Her reign was called Russia's golden age. She was born in Stettin, Prussia as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, and came to power following a coup d'état and the assassination of her husband, Czar Peter III, at the end of the Seven Years' War. Russia was revitalized under her reign, growing larger and stronger than ever and becoming recognized as one of the great powers of Europe.
Although Catherine was born into nobility and had the title of Princess, her family had very little money. Besides that, her family had great relations with the wealthy members of royalty, and Catherine learned since a child to always relate to powerful people.
In her family, it had been a tradition to always marry not for love, and Catherine accepts willingly this tradition (important in her family) when she marries the heir to the throne of Russia: the Grand Duke Peter.
The marriage was arranged by the Empress Elizabeth of Russia, who chose Catherine because she had no political bagage. Catherine accepts her duty of marring a powerful memeber of the royalty, but the truth is Catherine has always despised Peter since they both met at the age of 10. Based on her writings, she found Peter detestable upon meeting him. She disliked his pale complexion and his fondness for alcohol at such a young age. Peter also still played with toy soldiers.
Catherine accepts her marriage with Peter (even if she feels he's "a mean and narrow spirited man with no education, and incaptable of loving or being loved") but only for apppearances, meanwhile she hopes to secretly find the love of what she calls "a true man".
During their marriage she stayed at one end of the castle and Peter on the other.
At her first years in court Catherine falls in love with the nobleman Saltykov and makes him her lover. She's conviced she has find true love in him and speaks freely with Countess Bruce about her lover. But in a reception, during a talk with the Empress' Chancelor Bestuzhev, he tells her that Satykov is not in love with her and that he's acting following to orders of the Empress to grant a heir to the Throne (since the Grand Duke Peter is sexually dissabled).
Meanwhile Catherine's interest in Russian politics and its strategies are increasing. She feels herself
loyal to Russia and despises his husband lack of loyalty on the issue of the Seven Years' War. Catherine tells Bestuzhev that she supports Russia in the Seven Years' War and that she's not like her husband (who secretly supports Prusia, rivals of the russians in the Seven Years War).
Months later, Catherine gives birth a son but her baby is inmediatly taken away from her since the Empress wants to raise him personally. At first, Catherine complaints about the situationm but she soon accepts it and understands it giving to the Empress the total care of her kid.
She also, feeling betrayed, ends abruptly the relationship with Saltikov not after nagging him about his deception.
As the time goes by, the position of the Grand Duke Peter about his support to Prusia in the Seven Years' War becomes more and more clear infuriating Catherine, who is more and more interested and involved in the Russian politics. One night, Chancellor Bestuzhev and Catherine write a letter (without the Empress' permission) cheering the russian troops against Prusia. But the letter is intercepted by the Empress' right hand Vorontzov (Ian Richardson).
So the Empress calls Catherine to ask for an explanation. Catherine tell the empress that she didn't plot against her and that she admires her and never will plot against her. She tells her that she wrote the letter with good intentions and that she, convinced that she will be Empress of Russia someday and will lead the country to a modern transformation, intends to plot against her husband the Grand Duke Peter when he becomes Czar.
So Catherine still continues to gain more and more influence within the Russian Church and the Russian Army.
Meanwhile Catherine still likes to grant some lovers for herself. She finds a new lover in the brave Captain Potemkin (Paul McGann). She got pregnant with his baby but hides her pregancy and gives birth in secret. She cares about her newborn son, but because of her position she decides to give secretly her son to a wealthy family.
When Empress Elizabeth dies, Peter is named the new Czar and he inmediately put Russia supporting Prussia in the Seven Years' War. So Catherine, who has the favor of the Army and of the Church, decides to put a conclusion to her conspiracy. And on 28 June 1762, Catherine rallied the troops of Saint Petersburg to her support and declared herself Catherine II, the sole sovereign ruler of Russia.
She has Peter arrested and forces him to sign an act of abdication. Later on Peter is murdered by the Russian troops.
During her reign, Catherine behaves as an ultimate strategic ruler, playing ruthless with the men of power surronding her like they were chess pieces. She is also firm in her decisions and, even if she first feels reluctant on taking some meassures against the rebels and the pretendients to the throne, she ends up putting her heart away from the crown and executing brutal and heartless penalties.
She also starts a proccess of modernization of Russia, that was the reason she always wanted to became Empress. Catherine held western European philosophies and culture close to her heart, and she wanted to surround herself with like-minded people within Russia. She believed a 'new kind of person' could be created by inoculating Russian children with European education. Catherine believed education could change the hearts and minds of the Russian people and turn them away from backwardness. This meant developing individuals both intellectually and morally, providing them knowledge and skills, and fostering a sense of civic responsibility
Catherine Zeta-Jones portrays Catherine II as an elegant, educated, fair and tender young lady, who also values social climbing and appearances as she was educated in that by her family without remorse (she despises her husband with whom she only married for social status).
Catherine also hopes to find true love behind doors, and she's amorous with her first lover with whom she fells in love. However multiple situations and betreyals she experiences makes her to put love on the back burner. Even that she stills, during the rest of her life, grant herself with lovers.
During her evolution at Court, Catherine becames more and more involved with russian politics and more concerned about them. She manages to become highly influential and effective at the government of Russia behind the back of her husband.
She's smarter and more reasonable that her husband, but also somehow egocentric and smug. That makes her to dream of becoming the Empress of Russia, since she thinks she will do million times better than his husband. She is convinced she is the solution for Russia's problems, and being a woman never makes a difference in her challenges or behaviour.
Her intelilgence and balance makes her able to command a Coup and finally be crowned as the sole Empress of Russia. Her main interest in life are politics and her heart has hardened as the time goes by and she experiments betrayals and harsh behaviours towards her. .