TV Review: 'Ekaterina: The Rise of Catherine the Great' Season 1

Marina Aleksandrova as Catherine the Great in the 2014 Russian miniseries 'Ekaterina'
Catherine the Great is one of the most famous women in history and she gets her due in this origin-story bio-drama. Before she became “the Great,” Catherine (aka Ekaterina) was German Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg.

Russia-1's "Ekaterina: The Rise of Catherine the Great" traces the young princess' life from the time she arrives in Russia as the potential teenage bride of Pyotr III Fyodorovich (Aleksander Yatsenko), up until she is crowned as the country's Empress.

A vivid and beautifully crafted series replete with lavish costumes and a stirring musical score; the first season chronicles these years in 10 episodes. The series offers a sympathetic look at the rise of Ekaterina and the travails that shaped her journey to the throne.

As a young woman, she desperately works to win the genuine affection of her potential husband - the infantile, Pyotr. Guided and semi-mentored by his fierce aunt, Empress Yelizabeta, Friederike (Marina Aleksandrova) learns how to survive a dangerous court and a volatile husband.

Friederike’s rise to power as Ekaterina is riveting and rich with dramatic history. Sometimes fact is just as entertaining as fiction, and in the case of Friederike, this is incredibly accurate.

On the series, life and death hover on a knife’s edge, which means there is genuine suspense surrounding every person's survival, including Ekaterina's. This despite knowing her ultimate fate. As characterized by the series and brilliantly brought to life by actress Marina Aleksandrova, Ekaterina is someone you root for from the outset.

Poster art for Season 2 of Russia-1's 'Ekaterina' TV series
Poster Art for "Ekaterina" Season 2 [Image by Russia-1]
Aleksandrova’s revelatory performance is sincere and utterly captivating. She conveys the initial innocence, growing strength and regal resolve that comes to encompass the future Empress' adult identity with elegant finesse. 

While Ekaterina is seen developing towards her ultimate role, the series also introduces us to a woman who had already established herself in Russian history; Empress Yelizabeta Petrovna (a brilliant Julia Aug), daughter of Pyotr the Great.

As a strong and sophisticated leader in her own right, it is easy to understand why she is impressed by her nephew’s potential bride. As the series develops, you see a begrudging respect grow between the two women, though neither forgets how their roles impact the other.


For those curious about Russian history, “Ekaterina” offers a scintillating introduction and education to the country. As you will learn, its history is highly intriguing. There is also a rarely extended glimpse into the subterfuge and threats that were levied by and against the Royals.

While “Ekaterina” focuses on its namesake, it also offers a balanced and in-depth look at another powerful and complex figure; Empress Yelizabeta, as a bold, capable and ferocious leader.

Yelizabeta faces her own trials and tribulations throughout Season 1, which makes you wonder and want to research who she was before these particular chapters of her life unfolded. As it turns out they are equally as interesting.

If you liked these shows, you will love “Ekaterina”

If you are missing The CW’s exquisite costume drama “Reign,” “Ekaterina” offers a similar slice of court intrigue set amidst a young woman and future ruler's coming-of-age journey.

You will also find a complimentary dynamic between Ekaterina and Yelizabeta to the one that exists between Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) and Catherine de’ Medici (Megan Follows) in "Reign."

“Ekaterina” is also a wonderful series for fans of "The White Queen" and its sequel series “The White Princess.” If you enjoyed the Starz series' knack for cutthroat plot twists, familial politics, and royal romance, “Ekaterina” would be a crowning addition to your watchlist.

Season 1 and 2 of “Ekaterina: The Rise of Catherine the Great” are currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Read Eclectic Pop's review of Season 2, here.

[Featured Image by Russia-1]