Home Television Drama Peter The Great

Peter The Great

1 9 8 6 (USA)
4 x 90 minute episodes

NBC’s made-in-Russia $30 million epic Peter The Great was billed as the most extravagant and magnificent Hollywood miniseries ever made.

With Austrian heart-throb Maximilian Schell in the title role of the 17th-century Tsar, co-stars including Omar Sharif and Vanessa Redgrave and half the Red Army as extras, they had much to boast about.

But what they tried to keep secret was that Schell walked out four weeks before completing his contract and the producers hired a double to replace him.

The double was unknown English actor Denis DeMarne, who was flown to Rome where an Italian make-up artist took a mould of his face. From this he built a false chin and false nose, and back on the set in Russia, after daily make-up sessions lasting from three to five hours, DeMarne became Schell as the Tsar.

This was not just for long shots – DeMarne had to learn fifty pages of dialogue and filmed for 14 hours a day for three weeks, eventually appearing in the leading role for over one hour in the six-hour series.

Until he blew the gaff trying to improve his fee, the switch was undetected. It made little difference of course.

The series (shown on the BBC in Britain) seemed to last as long as the Romanov’s themselves.

Peter the Great it wasn’t. All that money, all those miles of film and it rated just Peter the so-so.

Peter the Great
Maximilian Schell

Vanessa Redgrave
Prince Feodor Romodanovsky 

Omar Sharif 
Sir Isaac Newton 

Trevor Howard
King William III of Orange 

Laurence Olivier 
Alexander Menshikov 

Helmut Griem
Young Peter the Great 

Jan Niklas
Old Peter the Great 

Denis DeMarne

Elke Sommer 
Anna Mons 

Renée Soutendijk 
Ursula Andress

Mel Ferrer 
Catherine Skevronskaya 

Hanna Schygulla
Mike Gwilym
Count Tolstoy 

Günther Maria Halmer
Boyar Lopukhin 

Olegar Fedoro 

Jan Malmsjö 

Lilli Palmer
Prince Vasily Golitsyn 

Geoffrey Whitehead
Colonel Patrick Gordon 

Jeremy Kemp 
Earl Sheremetief 

Vladimir Ilin