Hulu amuses with Russian coup in ‘The Great’
Ever wonder what historical figures were like before they earned their place in history? Hulu’s new series “The Great” does exactly that as the period comedy tells the story of the German aristocrat and her arrival at the Russian court when she marries emperor Peter.
The series is based on screenwriter Tony McNamara’s 2008 play of the same name, which applies an absurd lens to Catherine’s life. McNamara was also the screenwriter behind the Oscar-winning film “The Favourite.”
When Catherine comes to the court of Emperor Peter, the son of Peter the Great, she finds that her romantic notions of ruling have been dashed away. Catherine believes in the new philosophies of Voltaire and the great French philosophers but her husband acts like a brutish jokester and appears to have mommy issues (given that her corpse is displayed like a portrait in the great hall).
Catherine wants to bring Russia forward to make it a more progressive country while her husband would rather burn sick serfs and run his court like a frat house. Given that the series is a comedy the story plays up Catherine’s earnest optimism and Peter’s odd brand of cruelty.
When Catherine feels she can no longer bear living in her husband’s court she is prepared to commit suicide until her closet companion, her maid Marial, informs her that if the emperor were to die she would gain power over the country. From there the empress and her maid begin to hatch a plot to take down the bizarre emperor and bring forth a new, more progressive era for Russia.
Catherine and her maid gradually bring more and more people in on the plot, while Peter tries to figure out how to make his melancholy wife more pleasant at the court. When he presents her with a lover, the empress is at first hesitant, but eventually warms to the idea.
This parodied depiction of Catherine’s very real coup against her husband is amusing if not a bit drawn out. The characters feel a bit too whimsical at times, however that could have more to do with the writing than the performances provided by the cast.
Elle Fanning provides an amusing take on young Catherine the Great as her character absorbs all the court oddities and customs with a chipper stride. Nicholas Hoult plays the charismatic and bonkers Emperor Peter with a surprisingly tender element.
Episode length: 1 hour
Similar series: Catherine the Great
“The Great” has one season on Hulu. The series is rated TV-MA. Audiences might also enjoy HBO’s depiction of the empress in “Catherine the Great,” starring the impeccable Helen Mirren.