Roush Review: The Bossy, Seductive Helen Mirren Is Great in ‘Catherine the Great’

Catherine the Great - Helen Mirren

Judging from this opulent if oddly constricted four-part historical costume drama, the greatest thing about Empress Catherine of Russia (the ever-dynamic Helen Mirren) may have been her sex drive.

Wars rage mostly offscreen, shown in impressionistic rather than epic scenes of carnage. And while conspiracies fester in her royal court, wily Catherine often seems less consumed by matters of state than by more intimate affairs.

“Giving your heart, it’s just such a risk,” she laments. “Lays you open. Suddenly you’re at the mercy of the whole world.” Which doesn’t stop her from parading young studs in and out of her boudoir. “You may do whatever it is you think I want,” Catherine purrs to one minion.

Such saucy behavior sends her jealous lover, military leader Grigory Potemkin (a boisterous Jason Clarke), into bellowing fits of wounded male pride: “I waded through blood for you!” he cries.

The crown sits easily on Mirren, who can be bossy, seductive, vindictive, and girlish at will. She’s great, even when trapped in a romance novel.

Catherine the Great, Series Premiere, Monday, October 21, 10/9c, HBO