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In 1994, Zeta-Jones played the melancholic Eustacia Vye in the television film The Return of the Native, an adaptation of the novel of the same name (1878) by Thomas Hardy, and the wife of Lloyd Owen's character in the television war drama The Cinder Path.
She was then cast as the eponymous protagonist of the 1995 television biopic Catherine the Great.
In a mixed review, critic Lisa Nesselson of Variety found the miniseries to be "brightly colored" but "wooden and hollow", though thought that Zeta-Jones "imparts a certain grace and resolve to her sovereign-in-the-making".
Zeta-Jones next starred as the pragmatic girlfriend of Sean Pertwee's character in Blue Juice (1995), publicised as Britain's first surf film, which the critic Leonard Maltin described as a "superficial and predictable" production.
Despite a negative critical reception, the film was a commercial success; Janet Maslin of The New York Times thought that the film provided Zeta-Jones a platform to "show off her slithery skills", and Desson Howe of The Washington Post called on viewers to appreciate the sex appeal she brought to the role.
Zeta-Jones' first release of 1999 was the heist film Entrapment, in which she starred opposite Sean Connery as a seductive insurance agent on the lookout for an art thief.
The series was the highest-rated television show in the country at the time, and Zeta-Jones gained wide public recognition for it; she said, "Literally, with one hour of television my life completely changed. She next took on the part of an aspiring duchess in Splitting Heirs (1993), a farcical period drama from the director Robert Young about two children (Eric Idle and Rick Moranis) who are separated at birth.
Reviews for the film were negative, though the critic Vincent Canby of The New York Times found her to be "very funny".
Dismayed at being typecast as the token pretty girl in British films, Zeta-Jones relocated to Los Angeles.
Zeta-Jones initially established herself in Hollywood with roles that highlighted her sex appeal such as in the action film The Mask of Zorro (1998) and the heist film Entrapment (1999).
Campbell cast her as the leading lady in favour of Izabella Scorupco, who was his original choice for the part.