Last night, when I started to watch a fictionalized documentary on Frederick the Great, King of Prussia [1712-1786], I had no idea what it was all about… and it took me quite some time to figure out what was happening. The German director Jan Peter had made the curious decision to call upon two female actresses for the role of the celebrated monarch. The aging king is played by Katharina Thalbach.
And Katharina's real-life daughter Anna plays Frederick as a young prince, before the death of his harsh father, Frederick William I.
For the old king to look so much like the prince, I kept on saying to myself that the makeup artists had done a splendid job. And it was only much later, when I read an article on the movie in Télérama, that I learned that the roles had been played by a mother and her daughter. Funnily enough, Jan Peter's weird choice works superbly, maybe because there was indeed a refined feminine dimension in Frederick's character. He was a gifted musician, versed in French culture, who seemed to prefer the company of men.
This excellent film is not only enjoyable; it is quite didactic, providing uninformed viewers (such as me) with a view of that early phase of Hohenzollern royalty in Prussia.
An aspect of the movie that amused me was the way in which Frederick dined regularly with his distinguished French guests Voltaire and La Mettrie. The latter philosopher—whose famous L'Homme Machine (Machine Man) inspired me when I was working on my Machina Sapiens—actually died in Potsdam after stuffing himself with delicious pheasant and truffle pâté.