Oscar winner Helen Mirren returns to the small screen for an iconic role as Russia’s longest-reigning female monarch, Catherine The Great.

She won an Academy Award for embodying Queen Elizabeth in The Queen; now Helen Mirren is back to lead this nail-biting miniseries about Catherine II – better known as Catherine The Great.

The latest project created in partnership between HBO and Sky, Catherine The Great is a four-part historical drama follows the end of tumultuous monarch and politician Catherine II, who ruled the Russian empire and transformed its place in the world in the 18th century.

Born in 1729, Catherine The Great went on to become Empress of Russia in 1762 and reigned until her death in 1796. As Russia’s longest-reigning female monarch, Catherine The Great’s reign saw the Golden Age of Russia as well as the country’s expanse into new territories.

As a Catherine clinging to power after a bitter coup with white knuckles and an eye for devoted men, Mirren – who is also an executive producer on the show - renders an almost mythic figure with grounded determination, gravitas, and occasionally petty instincts. Mirren has been quoted as saying she is excited by the possibility of embodying a woman from history who grabbed then wielded great power. “She rewrote the rules of governance by a woman, and succeeded to the extent of having the word Great attached to her name, Catherine the Great,” she says.

Historic take on the modern woman

Amid scandal, intrigue and immense conflict, this is a story of obsessive love. Another key part of Catherine II’s story is her passionate affair with Russian military leader Grigory Potemkin, which ultimately helped shape the future of Russian politics.

Unable to publicly marry and famously promiscuous, they develop a unique and devoted relationship, overcoming their adversaries and together shaping Russia as we know it today. Catherine wielded supreme power throughout Russia for nearly half of the 18th century – strong-minded, independent, brilliantly intelligent and sexually liberated, she was the definition of the modern woman.

All-star creators

The series was written and directed by many people who have formerly collaborated with Mirren. Writer Nigel Williams, who previously won both a Golden Globe and Emmy Award for Mirren’s 2005 series Elizabeth I, is on board for the project – as is Philip Martin, who previously directed Mirren in Prime Suspect.

From a casting perspective, Jason Clarke plays Russian nobleman Grigory Potemkin, while Gina McKee will play Catherine’s confidant Praskovya Bruce. The Bafta-winning actress is perhaps best known to TV fans from her work with Jed Mercurio – playing Anne Sampson in Bodyguard and Jackie Laverty in Line of Duty.

Rory Kinnear (of Years and Years, The Imitation Game and Skyfall) also stars as Catherine’s political mentor Nikita Ivanovich Panin, while Moulin Rouge actor Richard Roxburgh will play Grigory Orlov, a noble favourite of Catherine the Great who fathered her son and was virtually co-ruler with her until his fall.

Catherine The Great starts on Monday 2 December on BBC First (119) at 20:00