The Great

Dept. of Horribly Hilarious Histories


Hulu’s recently released miniseries, The Great, which tells the story of the rise of Catherine the Great, is really pretty great.

The series stars Elle Fanning as Empress Catherine and Nicholas Hoult as Emperor Peter III and starts at the beginning of their relationship. Catherine, is sent off to Russia to be the wife of Emperor Peter, and together they rule Russia, and live happily ever after.

Emperor Peter and Catherine The Great enjoying a day out.

Who am I kidding? If you know anything about world history, you know the name Catherine the Great. Not so much Peter III. That’s because Peter dies (Spoilers? Not really, it’s history dammit!) and Catherine takes over the throne to become the empress of Russia, thereby earning the aforementioned title “the Great.”

Look, this is not a historically accurate biopic. For that, may I refer you to the HBO miniseries Catherine the Great. The full title of this series is actually The Great* (An Occasionally True Story) and that is exactly what it is. This series feels a lot more like Armando Ianucci’s The Death of Stalin in it’s delivery of history. A lot of swearing. No drama. And very tongue in cheek. HBO’s Catherine the Great is the historically accurate biopic, The Great is the irreverent, satirical retelling, with a huge helping of creative license. 

Catherine The Great and Emperor Peter III at a dinner.

The Great was created by Tony McNamara, and based on a play that he had written in 2008. The story begins with the marrying off of Catherine, a princess of Prussia to Emperor Peter III, and her introduction to his court of nobles and their very strange ways of doing things. The series then follows Catherine’s character growth from being a mere princess of Prussia, to the empress, and how she overcomes her depraved and, at times, dangerous husband.

As I mentioned, this is a satirical look at the rise of Empress Catherine, and irrespective of how much you know about her story, the series is still very much a compelling watch. How much of it is true, and to what extent, is up for debate. But as a piece of fiction (that is liberally inspired by true events and characters) The Great does a fantastic job at being watchable television.

Elle Fanning is marvellous as Catherine, displaying an innocence that slowly evolves into strength, resolve, and maturity over the course of the series’ 10 episodes. The deadpan look Catherine throws at every ridiculous thing that is asked of her, belies her beauty and her inner strength, in becoming this modern woman trying to drag a reluctant Russia into the modern world. Also, her glare is exquisite.

Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great in The Great.

But a special mention goes to Nicolas Hoult. His ability to switch from dunce-like, to anger, to loving is a sight to behold. Hoult’s Peter isn’t mean spirited, or revolting, or vile. Peter just acts the way he is expected to. The way he’s been taught to. Hoult doesn’t play Peter as cold or removed. But rather like the upper class high school jock, getting away with murder (or rather, openly sleeping with his best friend’s wife) because he is the emperor. You almost feel sorry for his Peter. Almost.

Nicholas Hoult as Peter III in The Great.

The Great is a wonderful piece of historical fiction. This is the Comedy Central Drunk History version of Catherine’s story. Inaccurate, maybe. But definitely far more entertaining and far more watchable than that other series. Huzzah!

The Great
Hulu, 1 Season, 10 episodes
Showrunner: Tony McNamara
Cast: Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult, Phoebe Fox, Sacha Dhawan, Charity Wakefield, Gwilym Lee, Adam Godley, Douglas Hodge, Belinda Bromilow, Bayo Gbadamosi, and Sebastian de Souza

The Great is now streaming on Hulu.

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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