Catherine the Great's life seems to have been made for the cinema. Countless love affairs and wild sexual escapades, betrayal, revenge, murder - there is no shortage of historical drama. But Oleg Erdmann, a young Russian filmmaker, seeks to discover and portray the real Catherine, her essential, emotional truth.
When he is dropped from the film he initially scripted - his name summarily excised from the credits - Erdmann is cast adrift in a changing world. A second chance beckons when an old friend enriched by the capitalist new dawn invites him to refashion his opus for a television serial. But Erdmann is made acutely aware that the market exerts its own forms of censorship.
While he comes to accept that each age must cast Catherine in its own image, one question continues to nag at him. Was the empress, whose sexual appetites were sated with favours bought with titles and coin, ever truly loved? In his search for an answer, Erdmann will find a love of his own that brings the fulfilment that filmmaking once promised him.