Let me first of all clear up some confusion: this seems to be the double-cassette, 180-minute version of "Young Catherine", not the badly edited 150-minute version. If so, it's the best available. Unfortunately, even this, often sold as the "complete" movie, is not really complete. The laser disc version on the Internet Movie database lists a running time of 187 minutes; moreover, when I tried to watch my copy of this video, I noticed quickly that little scenes were missing. I took out my original tapes from the TV broadcasts. Sure enough, there ARE cuts -- maybe not huge cuts, but telling cuts just the same, that sacrifice details and context to no good purpose. Seven minutes may not seem like much (if that's ALL that is missing), but the scenes I noted (before I gave up comparing and just watched my old TV taping) added significant characterization to the script and established clearer motivations for several key players. Why bother to remove these scenes? Just to save seven minutes of videotape? bah!
Enough of that. I would still recommend this film to anyone who likes a rousing good historical drama with well-defined characters, a meaty plot involving intrigue and romance, witty and believable dialogue, and thoroughly engaging performances by all players. (Plummer's droll English ambassador is especially noteworthy.) If only half the period flicks were this intelligently scripted! I knew nothing at all about Catherine the Great before watching this (except for the scandalous gossip that later grew up around her), had never seen Julia Ormond before, yet both film and actress are now firm favorites. Also commendable are Redgrave's capricious Empress and Reece Dinsdale's thoroughly madcap Grand Duke Peter, Catherine's surprise bridegroom. Dinsdale must have graduated first in his class at the Roddy McDowall School of Acting -- his resemblance to the veteran English actor is startling in this picture, and he makes a wonderfully loony (but still dangerous) Grand Duke, with his delusions, perversions, and idiocies.
Catherine, by contrast, must survive by her wits, and adding to the dangers of palace intrigue -- Watch out for that oily Pole! Beware the cunning Prussian! Trust not the serving maid who poisons your morning chocolate! -- are the risks she takes in finding love with a handsome Captain of the Imperial Guard. Slowly, Catherine gathers a circle of loyalists and advisors she can trust. When the inevitable storm breaks, and she must take a stand against her mad husband who would bring ruin to Russia, Catherine is ready to face her ultimate challenge.
The dramatic face-off between Ormond (who wears her 18th century military uniform quite well, it must be admitted, even if this places me in league with the cretinous Grand Duke) and the regiments opposed to her coup is a little too freely "borrowed" from "Waterloo" (which is in turn based on Napoleon's actual conduct), but at least it's an honest swipe. "Young Catherine" takes few other missteps. Pity we never got to see a follow-up ("Not Quite So Young Anymore Catherine"?) or more worthwhile projects like this from Ormond, an underrated actress who deserves better movies. And whatever you do, don't waste time with Catherine Zeta-Jones' recent Welsh-accented disaster "Catherine the Great"! (for my true feelings about this mess, see my amazon.com review).