Why Russian Empress Catherine The Great should suddenly be in vogue is probably a mere coincidence. Helen Mirren received respectable reviews for her recent portrayal even though the series she starred in was so leaden and heavy work.
Now Elle Fanning who is young enough to be Mirren’s ……. well, just lets say they are generations apart….. takes on the role, and also acts as Executive Producer for Hulu’s new original series The Great. And her compelling performance is just that : great.
Ellie plays Catherine as a 20 year daughter of impoverished Austrian aristocrat who has been chosen to be the virgin wife of the Emperor (Nicholas Hoult). Her role is to bear him an heir and help prop up the relationship between the two countries. She quickly loses all thoughts and hopes of a romantic liaison when her husband will only spend the occasional five minutes with her. It is just enough time to push up her skirts and penetrate her before going back to his pals and their whores.
Peter unable to escape from the shadows of his late father Peter The Great runs his Court like some sort of medieval Frat House. Debauchery is in and decency is out. He surrounds himself with sycophants who pamper to all his absurd ideas whilst at the same time he wants to be awarded a title ……such as The Great ……when it’s clear he will never ever deserve it.
This comical romp is all based on historical facts which is hard to believe at times, and there is such a humorous slant to all the debauchery and even downright cruelty that somehow makes it all more acceptable, and funny as hell to boot.
If you know your 18th Century history then you will know that the innocent young Catherine does manage to ditch her boorish husband, take over the throne, and actually is awarded the title that Peter had craved so desperately.
This thoroughly entertaining series was based on a stage play by Australian writer Tony McNamara who serves as both co-writer and producer. McNamara was nominated for an Academy Award for writing The Favourite , and when you learn that the penny drops. The Great has such similar wit, sarcasm, and outrageous humor : so much so if you liked The Favorite, you will LOVE The Great too. Even some of the locations and sets look the same too.
Fanning’s electrifying performance is matched by that of Hoult with his pitch perfect comic timing as the bumbling Peter with his obsession with his late mother. There are also some rather wonderful supporting roles such as Phoebe Fox playing Mariel who was stripped off her title and forced to be a maid, and Douglas Hodge as the inept Army General whom Peter loves to use as a punching bag.
The 10 part series never wans and there are plenty of really cattish one lines throughout to make you howl. This is history re-written and re-imagined as it really should be.