Other Versions of this Movie

The Rise of Catherine the Great


Also Known As: Catherine the Great Vienna-born Elisabeth Bergner, in her first English-language film, is radiant as the obscure German princess who would become the most powerful woman in Russian history. Hers is an excellent performance in a difficult role, where it would have been easy to be upstaged by the other, flashier, characters. As Grand Duke Peter - later Czar Peter III - Douglas Fairbanks Jr. behaves like a homicidal Hamlet, all moodiness & flares of deadly temper. He makes an interesting effort to create a charmer out of a pathetic man who was obviously a maniac.

Catherine the Great (also titled The Rise of Catherine the Great) is a 1934 in film UK historical film based on the play The Czarina by Lajos Bíró and Melchior Lengyel, about the rise to power of Catherine the Great. It was directed by Paul Czinner, and stars Elisabeth Bergner as Catherine, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as Peter III of Russia, Dorothy Hale as Countess Olga, and Flora Robson as Elizabeth of Russia.


This historical drama recounts the events that led to the accession of Catherine the Great, Empress of all the Russias. The film opens with the arrival of Princess Sophie Auguste Frederika – whose name would be changed to ‘Catherine’ – from her father’s court of Anhalt-Zerbst (in modern Germany) to the court of the Empress Elizabeth. “Little Catherine” is to marry the Grand Duke Peter, nephew and heir presumptive of the unmarried and childless Empress Elizabeth.
Peter already displays signs of mental instability and a sharply misogynist streak. He rejects Catherine on their wedding night, reacting to something innocently said by his French valet, claiming that she used feminine tricks to win him over. In time though, Peter accepts her and they have a happy marriage for a while. Meanwhile, Catherine gains important experience of government from working as principal aide to the empress.
The empress dies and Peter becomes tsar, but his mental illness is starting to get the better of him, along with sheer boredom in the job. Catherine still loves him despite beginning a very public love affair with one of her best friends – until one night when Peter goes one step too far in publicly humiliating his wife. She ceases to love him, which enables her to be clear-headed in supporting a planned coup d'état. The following morning, he is arrested and Catherine is made Empress of All the Russias.
The elevation is marred by Peter’s murder that very morning, contrary to Catherine’s command. Grigory Orlov explains that everything has a price, and the crown has the highest price of all. The film ends, with Catherine in tears on her throne, while the cheers of the crowds are heard outside.


  • Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as Grand Duke Peter
  • Elisabeth Bergner as Catherine
  • Flora Robson as Empress Elisabeth
  • Gerald du Maurier as Lecocq
  • Irene Vanbrugh as Princess Anhalt-Zerbst
  • Joan Gardner as Katushienka
  • Dorothy Hale as Countess Olga
  • Diana Napier as Countess Vorontzova
  • Griffith Jones (actor) as Grigory Orlov
  • Gibb McLaughlin as Bestujhev (as Gibb MacLaughlin)
  • Clifford Heatherley as Ogarev
  • Laurence Hanray as Goudovitch
  • Allan Jeayes as Col. Karnilov

Category:1930s drama films
Category:1934 films
Category:British films
Category:British biographical films
Category:British drama films
Category:Black-and-white films
Category:English-language films
Category:Films based on plays
Category:Films directed by Paul Czinner
Category:Films about Catherine the Great
Category:Film scores by Ernst Toch
Alexander Korda, Ludovico Toeplitz

More Public Domain Movies