Peter the Great (1986)



Director:  Lawrence Schiller, Marvin J. Chomsky

Starring:  Maximilian Schell (Peter the Great), Vanessa Redgrave (Sophia), Omar Sharif (Prince Feodor Romodanovsky), Trevor Howard (Sir Isaac Newton), Laurence Olivier (King William III of Orange), Helmut Griem (Alexander Menshikov), Jan Niklas (Young Peter the Great), Elke Sommer (Charlotte), Rene Soutendijk (Anna Mons), Ursula Andress (Athalie), Mel Ferrer (Frederick), Hanna Schygulla (Catherine Skevronskaya), Mike Gwilym (Shafirov), Gnther Maria Halmer (Count Tolstoy), Olegar Fedoro (Boyar Lopukhin), Jan Malmsj (Patriarch), Lilli Palmer (Natalya), Geoffrey Whitehead (Prince Vasily Golitsyn), Jeremy Kemp (Col. Patrick Gordon), Vladimir Ilyin (Earl Sheremetief), Boris Plotnikov (Alexis), Roman Filippov (Danilo Menshikov), Vsevolod Larionov (Prince Sukhorukov), Algis Arlauskas (Father Theodosius), Walter Buschhoff (Silvestre Mons), Christoph Eichhorn (Karl XII, King of Sweden), Luba Ghermanova (Afrosina), Burkhard Heyl (Count Piper), Natalya Andrejchenko (Eudoxia), Graham McGrath (10 Year Old Peter), Nikolai Lazarev (Ivan), Tolly Thwaites (Boy Alexis), Ulli Philipp (Louise), Denis DeMarne (Old Peter the Great), Dimitri Chernigovsky (Michael Menshikov).

A TV mini-series that won an Emmy.

The Story of Peter the Great of Russia.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Old Peter the Great broods: "I'm alone here."  He wonders what brought him to this position in his life. 

A long flashback.  1682.  Peter is almost ten years old.  His mother reigned for his older brother Ivan, who was a bit simple and was not really qualified to be a Tsar.  The power in Russia lies with the church and the feuding Boyars.  Ivan the Terrible had set up the Streltsy and now it was the real source of power in Russia.  Peter's half-sister Sophia lied to the Streltsy and  turned them against Peter and his mother.   The Streltsy Revolt of 1682 resulted when the Streltsy came to believe that Peter and his mother plotted to kill Ivan and put Peter on the throne.  As the Streltsy revolted, Sophia and Father Theodosius put Ivan in a closet to keep him out of the way.  Prince Feodor Romodanovsky and the Council of Boyars want Sophia to help quell the riot, but she is not interested in stopping the Streltsy. 

A poor farmer named Alexander sees a Streltsy climb the stairs to the royal chambers.  He follows him.  The Streltsy acts as an assassin, but just as he is about to shoot Peter and his mother, Alexander stabs the man in the back killing him.  Alexander then runs away.

Prince Feodor Romodanovsky tells Sophia that if she will calm the Streltsy, the Boyars will see to it that she becomes regent.  Peter's uncle and teacher try to calm the Streltsy by telling them that Ivan is alive, but the crazed soldiers kill the two speakers.  Father Theodosius steps us to speak to the men followed by Sophia who shows them Ivan in the flesh.  Sophia is rewarded by being made regent.  She then agrees to two future Tsars, Ivan and Peter, who will share the throne. 

Peter finds out that the name of the man who saved his life is Alexander Menshikov.  He tracks the man down, returns his knife to him and asks him to come with him to the Kremlin so he can be rewarded.

Sophia chooses a highly placed priest to be her spy in the inner circle.  She ruled for ten years.  Then real trouble began for her.

1692.  The Mongol Tartars ride north and attack a Russian village.  Sophia, with her lover Prince Vasily Golitsyn, decide to send two peasant armies of a total of 100,000 men to attack the Tartar stronghold at the fortress at Azov.  Peter thinks the idea is not a sound one, but he finds it politically useful to let Sophia proceed with her plans.  He then moves out of the Kremlin to the wooden palace.  He decides to surround himself with two well-trained regiments of soldiers.  He sails his boat on a river to the "foreign" colony where he falls off the boat.  General Patrick Gordon swims out to make sure he is all right.  Peter is grateful to the general and he asks him to teach the two regiments he is going to build.  The two men also talk about the theories of gravity developed by Sir Isaac Newton. 

Sophia is forcing Ivan to marry and so Peter's mother puts pressure on him to also marry.  Peter is unconcerned about marriage and so he tells his mother to find him a suitable bride, one who has a family history of giving birth to lots of baby boys.  With Patrick Gordon and now Lt. Alexander Menshikov, Peter hangs out at the foreign colony.  There he meets the pretty Anna Mons and begins a sexual relationship with her. 

Peter's mother decides on a bride for Peter.  The couple become engaged and then marry.  Peter finds that his wife sees sex in a very negative light, as a duty she must suffer through.  He becomes so disgusted with her that he leaves and has sex with Anna Mons.  When he returns he forces sex on his wife.  Peter says that from that time forward his life became divided into rigid segments. 

Prince Golitsyn is badly beaten at Azov.  He loses more than 45,000 soldiers.  Peter learns of this and that Sophia has plans to reward the Prince as a hero who has won a marvelous victory.  When the award ceremony begins Peter enters and spills the beans.  He tells the assembled that the Prince suffered almost 68,000 casualties (dead, wounded or ill men).  Sophia is shaken by the huge loss but she still puts an award around Golitsyn's neck. 

Sophia's men ambush Peter and his men, but all the attackers are killed.  Peter escapes with his life and almost immediately learns that he has become a father.  He rushes home.  It's a boy!  Peter is ecstatic. 

Sophia is planning another attack on Peter.  Peter returns to the Kremlin.  Alexander's brother acts as a messenger to the general of the Streltsy.  The general recognizes him and takes the messenger into custody.  They torture the brother to try to get information out of him about Peter and he dies in their custody.  When Alexander is told that the general killed his brother he gets revenge by shooting the general in the head in his sleeping chamber. 

Peter's mother is ill.  Peter visits her.  He has a plan of his own, but it takes six months to put into action.  Meanwhile, Sophia has suffered a setback.  All the senior officers above the rank of captain have left her service. Prince Golitsyn tries to take charge of the Streltsy via force, but Peter's men stop him with their own force.  Golitsyn is arrested.  Peter decides to spare the life of Golitsyn but all his property is confiscated and he is exiled for life.  Sophia is sent to be a nun in a monastery. 

Peter leaves his mistress Anna Mons.  His mother dies.  Peter's wife not only does not provide any emotional support for Peter, she tells him that his mother hated her from the very beginning.  Peter slaps her across the face.  At his mother's funeral Peter has to quell a rebellious mob.  He tells the people that he will make Russia catch up with the European nations; he will get back the former Russian seaports; and he will bring Russia into the modern world even if he has to drag the people kicking and screaming with him. 

The Tartars attack again.  Peter decides to attack Azov.  But this time, they will have a navy with which to bombard the fortress at Azov.  It takes them years to build a small navy.  When everything is ready, he and his young and weak son, watch the Russian bombardment of the fortress at Azov.  His son, Alexis, is very scared by war.  They hit an ammunition storage area in the fortress and a big explosion destroys a large part of the fortress.  The Russians win a big victory.  Peter receives a message from Moscow that his brother Ivan has died.  Peter is now the sole Tsar of all the Russias. 

At Azov Peter falls in love with a young, blonde slave girl named Catherine.  She returns with him to the wooden palace.  Peter's wife tries to return to the Kremlin, but Peter and his men stop her carriage and force her to return.  He tells her that even the wives of the Tsar's are not permanent. 

Peter wants a deep water navy for trade and war on the Baltic Sea.  He also wants to build a new city/seaport that he will name St. Petersburg, not after himself but for St. Peter he says.  He takes Alexis sail boating but the boy is scared of the water.  Alexis is knocked into the water by the sail and Peter has to save him.

Peter decides to tax the church.  This is a very controversial move and this gives his enemies more ammunition with which to attack him.  Sophia, the Boyars and church officials start to form an informal alliance against Peter.  Peter is not deterred by any of this. 

Alexis is now all grown up.  He wants to see his father but his mother does not want him to see him. 

Peter says that he will make a trip to visit European countries.  He will get allies and the allies will then help Russia build its deep water navy.  This is also a controversial move for no Tsar had ever left Russia. 

The Royal Palace, Sweden.  King Karl XII talks with his mistress Athalie about  using her considerable sexual attractiveness to get information out of Peter and/or the men around him.  The priest spy for Sophia speaks with the Swedish king, giving him some of the latest information about Peter. 

Peter tries with no luck to get Alexis to go with him to the various European countries.  Peter says:  "I have lost him.  He doesn't love me."  Leaving Prince Feodor Romodanovsky in charge, Peter leaves.  In Germany he meets with Frederick.  Peter gets Frederick on his side by saying that Russia will help make him King of Prussia and all of northern Germany.  He asks to meet some eligible noble women and he chooses a woman named Louise to be his son's wife.  He finds out that his mistress Catherine is pregnant.

In Amsterdam, Peter and his close staff learn the various skills required in ship building by actually working in the shipyards.  After six months, his command ship is finished and he names it City of Amsterdam.  Catherine gives birth to a baby girl who they name Elizabeth. 

Hearing that Catherine has given birth to a possible heir to the Russian throne, Peter's wife decides to join Sophia's conspiracy against her husband.  The conspirators plan a revolt against Peter.  All correspondence to and from Peter is intercepted and rewritten deliberately to mislead Peter and keep him in the dark. 

In London Peter meets with the King.  He also visits Sir Isaac Newton at his home.  Finally awakening to the threat at home, because of the lack of any real news from Russia, Peter decides to return to the Kremlin.  Just as the Streltsy are about to attack the Kremlin, Peter and his forces open up with cannon fire dispersing the Streltsy and sending them running.  This time Peter decides to send Sophia to the Arctic area. 

Peter comments that now he is free to deal with Sweden.  Alexis marries Louise, but has a mistress on the side.  Peter puts his wife in a convent as a nun.  Since his wife is now married to Jesus, he is free to marry Catherine and he does. 

Peter stirs up more controversy by taking down the church bells in order to turn them into cannon for a war on Sweden.  He tries to negotiate with the Swedish King for a seaport, but no deal.  Peter makes plans to attack the Swedish stronghold at Navarra. Gordon will be used as a decoy on the west side, but Peter will lead the main attack to come from the south. 

The traitor priest reveals Peter's plans to the Swedish King.  This gives the Swedes a major advantage.  They ambush the decoy troops which results in a massacre of the Russian decoy troops.  General Gordon is among the dead.  While Peter and some of his men ride to see what happened to the delayed Gordon, the Swedes launch a surprise attack on the main Russian force sending them running for their very lives.  Peter is crushed.  This emboldens the Swedes and they march deep into the heart of Russia.  Peter, however, meets the Swedes at the Battle of Poltava and decisively defeats them.  In the battle, the Swedish King is wounded and has to retreat.

Back at the Kremlin, Alexis decides to send Louise to a nunnery and marry his mistress.  But then he learns of his father's great victory at Poltava.  Being part of the conspiracy against his father, he and his mistress now flee to Vienna, Austria in the hope of aligning with three other nations to defeat Peter.  Peter learns of the conspiracy and the flight of his son and his mistress.  He sends his agents to Vienna and they make the mistress help in the apprehension of Alexis.  They bring the runaway son back to the Kremlin.

Alexis falls at the feet of his father.  Peter says he will pardon Alexis on the condition that he name his fellow conspirators.  But Alexis only gives him a handful of names.  Alexis is disinherited.  He will have no claim on the throne.  Alexis's mistress tells her interrogators that Alexis wanted to insure that Russia would stay in its current backward status; would completely undo everything his father had accomplished; and told everyone that the Tsar was possessed by Satan. Peter demands that his son confess to these traitorous crimes and give him more names of the conspirators.  Alexis refuses to cooperate.  He is then tortured.  But even under torture, Alexis will not relent.  Peter gives his son one last chance to save himself, but Alexis just tells him:  "Kill me. I won't help you."  The torture resumes and Alexis dies. 

Catherine is crowned Tsarina. 

Back to the present.  Peter muses again over the current lonely situation in which he finds himself.


Very good movie.  The movie gives you a lot of information about Peter the Great and his family.  You really feel as though you have gotten some real insight into Tsar Peter and his dysfunctional family.  There are a lot of twists and turns as there are many plots and conspiracies in various attempts to grab the power of the Russian throne.  Peter has a great challenge before him.  How will he get his backward country to agree to move into the modern world?  And how will he ever get any real peace in his own family, split as it is?  Add to this, the need to fight the Tartars in the south and Sweden in the northwest.  Peter's greatest weakness was his son.  He was much too lenient with the young man.  Instead of forcing him to behave, he let the young man drift without direction or real punishment until it was too late for the man to be saved.  He should have kept his son with him and away from his bitter and hateful mother.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


Romanov Dynasty

1613-1645  --  reign of Michael Romanov. 

1613 -- Russians band together to drive the Poles from Moscow.

1613 -- A zemski sobor now elects Tsar Michael Romanov,  a curious anomaly, an elected autocrat.

Michael Romanov suffers a depressive mental sickness (melancholia). While in these depressed states he behaved badly, falling into rages and ordering the deaths of people.

1645  --  by the time of his death in 1645 Michael Romanov restored order and greatness to Russia. This dynasty lasted until the Communists took over in 1917.

1645 -- the zemski sobor endorses the accession of Michael's son Alexis (to 1676).

16451676  -- reign of Alexis I. 

1649 -- tenants and serfs virtually fixed to the soil, with serf status becoming hereditary. The Russian serfs were not emancipated until 1861.

1672  --  birth of the future Tsar Peter I of Russia.  Unhappily, Peter inherits the melancholia of his grandfather, Michael Romanov.

1676  -- Czar Alexis I dies (the future Peter the Great is only 4 years old).  Besides Peter, there are two other sons by the first wife Marya Miloslavska still living -- Feodor and Ivan. The various boys became involved in a struggle for power that lasted twelve years.

1676-1682  --  region of Feodor Romanov (Theodore III).  Autocratic tsardom now taken for granted.

1682 -- death of Tsar Fedor Romanov; Russia still a backward eastern European country with very little knowledge of the outside world.

1682 -- Poles weakening; repeated wars had been fought over the Ukraine.

1682-1725  --  reign of Peter the Great Actually, his sickly half-brother Ivan V was a co-ruler until 1696.  Russia emerges as a major power during the era of this ruler. 

1689  --  Peter's mother arranges a marriage to Eudoxia Lopukhina.  The marriage was a failure.

1689  --  his half-sister Sophia Alekseyevna led a rebellion of the Streltsy (Russia's elite military corps). Many of Peter's relatives and friends were murdered.  Peter witnessed a mob butcher one of his uncles.  Peter was able to force Sophia into a convent.  (She had been weakened by two unsuccessful Crimean campaigns.) 

1691-95 rule of Sultan Ahmed II of the Ottoman Empire.

1694  --  his mother Nataliya Naryshkina dies and Peter finally becomes truly independent (even though nominally Ivan V remained a co-ruler).

1695 -- Peter leads a campaign against the Turks at Azov in the area of the Black Sea; he fails.

1695-1703 reign of Mustafa II of the Ottoman Empire.

1696  -- Peter becomes sole ruler with the death of Ivan V.

1696  --  defeats the Turks at Azov.  The project of forming a league against the Turks with the states of western Europe now gave Peter the pretext for a trip outside Russia, the first undertaken by a Russian sovereign since the Kievan period.  War becomes his greatest interest.

1698  --  Streltzy rebellion. 

1699  --  after ten years of marriage, Peter forced his wife to become a nun, thereby freeing himself from the marriage.

1700-1721 -- Peter I characteristically rushed unprepared into the Great Northern War (that began with the Spanish invasion of Livonia).  Charles XII of Sweden knocks Denmark out of the war before Russia even gets in. And Charles completely defeats a vastly larger Russian force at Narva in 1700. Charles captures the entire supply of modern cannon of which Peter was so proud.

1702 --  Charles XII takes Warsaw, Cracow.

1703 --  Swedish victory over Russians at Rultusk

1703  --  Peter captures from the Swedes the two Baltic provinces nearest to Russia, Ingria and Livonia. In Ingria he founds a new city, St. Petersburg, soon to be the capital of Russia.

1703-30 Sultan Ahmed III of the Ottoman Empire.

1704 --  Peter takes Dorpat, Narva.

1706 --  Charles XII defeats Russians and Saxons at Franstadt.

1709 -- foolishly pushing into interior Russia (in order to link up with allies, the Cossacks) Charles decisively loses the battle of Poltava.

1710-1711 -- war against Turkey (instigated by Charles); Peter is captured but later released; the Swedish empire was obviously dissolving and the Russians were taking its place.

1712 --  Peter marries his mistress Catharina Alexajovna.

1716  --  Peter visits Europe for a second time.

1721 -- at Nystadt Russia receives all the former possessions of Sweden along the eastern shore of the Baltic.

1725 -- Peter dies;  Russia had been at war for almost the entirety of his 35 year reign; succeeded by his wife to 1727.

Over the course of the next thirty-seven years, the throne changed hands seven times. In the series of palace overturns, the guards' regiments founded by Peter exercised a decisive influence. The service nobility, no longer restrained by the tsar, now entered into its era of dominance.

17251727  -- reign of Catherine I.  

1727-1730  --  reign of Peter II, Peter I's grandson.

17301740  --  reign of Anna.  

17401741  --  reign of Ivan VI. 

17411762  --  reign of Elizabeth.

17621762  --  reign of Peter III. 

17621796  --  reign of Catherine II, the Great. 


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