Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Plummer, Franco Nero, Marthe Keller, Maximilian Schell and Julia Ormond star in this powerful tale of two women: one mother to an empire; one destined to overpower her. The year is 1744, and a young woman (Ormond) is torn from her homeland to marry the heir to the Russian throne. But his mother Elizabeth (Redgrave: Orpheus Descending, Murder on the Orient Express) rules the Empire with an iron hand, while her son proves neither fit for the throne nor the marriage bed. At risk from enemies who influence her husband, and treated as an outsider by the Empress Elizabeth, Catherine takes a lover and bears his child. Now, with the help of her best friend Sir Charles (Plummer: The Thorn Birds, A Ghost in Monte Carlo), she must take the throne by force if she, her illegitimate son and the Russian empire are to survive.