The Great is a satirical, comedic drama about the rise of Catherine the Great from outsider to the longest reigning female ruler in Russia’s history. A fictionalized, fun and anachronistic story of an idealistic, romantic young girl, who arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage to the mercurial Emperor Peter. Hoping for love and sunshine, she finds instead a dangerous, depraved, backward world that she resolves to change. All she has to do is kill her husband, beat the church, baffle the military and get the court onside. A very modern story about the past which encompasses the many roles she played over her lifetime as lover, teacher, ruler, friend, and fighter.
Billed as “an occasionally true story,” Hulu’s The Great is a raunchy romp of a modern take on Russia’s Catherine the Great. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a period comedy-drama with all the gowns and palaces and balls a girl could want, but it’s also a sex-filled, dirty-mouthed, HILARIOUS interpretation of one of history’s greatest coups. Catherine is a naive, innocent teen when she’s sent to marry Peter, the emperor of Russia. She arrives hoping to marry Prince Charming and make her new country a better place. Instead, she gets a moody brat husband who loves to wage wars and have lots of sex (with anyone but her), a palace full of simpering idiots, and ladies-in-waiting who are the bitchiest bitches who ever bitched. Soon, Catherine realizes the only way to stop her own suffering and the suffering of Russia’s people is to overthrow her husband and lead the country herself, so she wrangles a motley of crew of helpers to take on what mostly feels like an impossible task.
Elle Fanning as Catherine
For me, Elle fanning has always been Dakota’s little sister, but a glimpse at this girl’s IMDB has me trying to catch my breath. She’s been WORKING her whole damn life. She played a child victim in every CSI / Criminal Minds / Law & Order type show before moving on to bigger roles in her teenage years. But with The Great, Elle is finally starting to eclipse her older sister. She is perfect as Catherine. She’s got that whole rosy-cheeked innocence thing happening, but as the show goes on, you watch her grind her teeth, stick her chin out, and realize that pretty pretty princess shit is no longer gonna work for her.
Nicholas Hoult as Peter
I turned to my husband *multiple* times during our viewing of The Great and said, “If Nicholas Hoult doesn’t win an Emmy for this, I swear to god…” At this point, I feel like Nicholas Hoult should be a household name. We all know him as Marcus from About a Boy, but since then, my man has been BUSY. Skins, X-Men, Warm Bodies, Mad Max Fury Road, The Favourite, Tolkein, Jennifer Lawrence’s ex-boyfriend. A man of many talents! As Peter, Hoult toes a line between mercurial, spoiled baby bitch and something just a bit more nuanced. He is awful, but you always suspect that maybe there is some real, possibly decent human being under there that Hoult masterfully gives the viewer glimpses of from time to time.
Adam Godley as Archbishop (Archie)
It took a few episodes featuring the palace’s strange, ominous, patriarch priest for me to have my Leo-pointing-at-the-TV moment and yell “TEACHER!!!! TEACHER FROM LOVE ACTUALLY. IN THE SCHOOL MUSICAL. THE ONE WHO INTRODUCED JOANNA THEN PUT A SCARF AROUND HIS NECK.” I’m sure Adam Godley has a full and varied acting career, but I promise you, I’m saving you the frustration of figuring out that he was the teacher in the school musical.
Sebastian de Souza as Leo
I’m also currently binging Hulu’s Normal People, in which Sebastian has a very small role as one of Marianne’s ex-boyfriends. He also played Matty on Skins, and Botteceli in Medici. I feel like his star is still rising though. In The Great, he plays Leo, the lucky son of a gun who takes on the task of Catherine’s lover. He is sweet, supportive, always has snacks, might have invented the Moscow Mule, and 100% willing to be the stay-at-home paramour of Russia’s future queen.
Couch-Sharing Capability: No Parents Allowed
Because here’s the thing: The Great is raunchy as hell. There’s SO much sex and SO much vulgar language. I am not easily shocked/embarrassed/offended but when my mom watched an episode with us, I wanted to hide behind the couch when Nicholas Hoult talked at length about eating seasonal fruit out of certain parts of a woman’s body. That said, while I’m usually left to my own devices to watch anything that involves palaces and monarchs and the like, my husband was equally obsessed with this show. It’s an extremely modern interpretation, and laugh out loud funny all the way through.
Recommended Level of Inebriation: Break Out the Vodka
This is Russia, after all. You don’t need to be drunk to enjoy The Great, but they certainly making drinking look fun. Warning: you WILL want to throw back a shot, then scream HUZZAH! as you throw your glass onto the ground to shatter it. Don’t try that at home though.
Use of Your Streaming Subscription: A Bingeworthy Education
Okay, I know that this is an EXTREMELY fictionalized take on Russian history, but do you know how much I knew about Russian history before I watched this show? It wasn’t much! Not only did I feel like I learned something in the most enjoyable way possible, it also made me way more interested in reading about the real, actual true story of Catherine the Great. Plus, we found ourselves counting the hours until we could watch the next episode. It’s not just bingeworthy, it’s multiple-times bingeworthy.