Over the past few weeks of Meryl news searching, I began to put some thought into certain characters or roles I would love to see her play. I posted several months ago that I'd be interested to see her in a film version of Jonathan Franzen's book "The Corrections," but I didn't speculate much further than that on possible other roles. Two years ago one of my choices would've been "Violet" from August: Osage County, but the gods went straight to work on that one for me, so cross it off. And since Into the Woods is already a rumored project for Meryl, I can't really include that in my "wish list," unless it eventually turns out that she does not in fact portray Sondheim's witch.
The role that has been particularly burning on my mind most recently would be a portrayal of 18th century Russian empress Catherine II, better knows as Catherine the Great. I'm guessing she occurred to me because one, this summer I listened to the audio book of Robert K. Massie's intensive biography of the well-known tsar, and two, I'm currently reading a book about the British monarchy. I swear it has nothing to do with Will and Kate's royal bun in the oven. I'm just a fan of biographical histories of world leaders (see my Hillary 2016 prediction from last week).
There are countless reasons Catherine the Great would be a compelling role for Meryl, and yet an actual film being made poses just as many real obstacles. One of the most juicy aspects would be the fact that Catherine was German but essentially usurped her husband's Russian throne. She also spoke and read/wrote in French. This would be an absolute accent tour de force for Meryl: speaking German, and Russian/French with German accents. The drawback however is that if Catherine did know English, she likely rarely used it. Therefore a film that were essentially a foreign language film with an American, English-speaking actress in the title role may be a tough sell. I wouldn't want to see another situation (i.e. The House of the Spirits) where events take place in a non English-speaking country and yet it's filmed in English. They would perhaps have to center the film around an event in Catherine's life in which she corresponded regularly with English speakers, again assuming she knew the language. John Paul Jones was a Scottish-American naval commander whom Catherine employed later in life during the Russo-Turkish wars. He and his relationship to the empress could make a fascinating focal point around which a semi-factual story could be feasibly based.
So, let's assume there's a screenwriter out there who desperately wants to write something about Catherine the Great, and even has Meryl in mind for the title role. Conceding the chances of that are dismal, the film, as alluded to above, would have to take place near the end of Catherine's reign. She died at the age of 67 in 1796. Meryl will turn 64 next summer, and although she can still believably portray characters in their early 50's, if she were to play Catherine now, we'd realistically need the film to take place no later than 1779. That would still encompass the majority of the events of the American Revolutionary War (during which she refused aid to British King George III) and the French Revolution of the late 1780's. Were a film to not be made for another ten years, the options would obviously become more limited. Portraying a woman 20 years her junior (which Meryl could certainly do) would pose a pretty daunting challenge. Although we're somewhat solaced with Sally Field's recent successful turn as Mary Lincoln.
From what I understand, there has never really been a memorable feature film about Catherine the Great. Catherine Zeta-Jones played her in a tv movie in the mid 90's (which I haven't seen), but other than that, nothing on a larger scale has been tackled in the last forty years. I think it's time. So, I release this idea into the universe. Perhaps the challenge will be taken up by an enterprising young screenwriter who wants to win Meryl a record-breaking fifth Oscar. Yes, fifth. I'm already counting the 2014 win for August: Osage County.