Crazy about Catherine: Representations of Catherine the Great in Contemporary Russian Cinema (Temptations of Power and Legitimation of the Present)


This article discusses the reasons for the increased interest in the figure of Catherine II in Russian cinema of the 2010s. These films recreate the principles of gynecocracy in the period of Catherine’s reign. The analysis of TV series Catherine (2014–2016) and The Great (2015) aims to answer the question about the ideological and psychological meaning of such ‘retrohistory’ and its connection with the political concerns of the present. This study also considers these series within the cinematographic tradition of the twentieth century and the context provided by the memoirs of the eighteenth century. The conclusion is made that contemporary Russian historical cinema has lost its escapist function as well as its interest in depicting the emotional culture of the Catherinian era. Cinematic representations of the past are thus characterized by the following features: use of the past to legitimize the present; aesthetic empathy; ‘Russification’ of the German princess as a source of Russian national pride; gender self- presentation and projection of certain psychological complexes on the representation of Catherine in order to enhance the film’s appeal to the female audience.

Keywords: Catherine the Great, Russian cinema, gynecocracy, retrohistory, legitimation of the present, aesthetic empathy, gender self-presentation

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