If you love period dramas but feel they’re a bit too serious, you’ll love The Great. Hulu’s ‘anti-historical’ drama-comedy defies the unwritten rules of making a period piece, blending humour, drama and a touch of absurdity to trace the rise of Russia’s Catherine the Great.
Elle Fanning stars as Catherine, in what feels like a breakout performance for her. Her relatable portrayal balances a playful wit and vulnerability with the determination that defined the real empress. At the same time, her constant breaking of the fourth wall creates a much different dynamic with viewers, bringing a bit of realness to the story.
I was halfway through the first season when I found out that the show was created by Tony McNamara, who also wrote the screenplay for Yorgos Lanthimos’ irreverent period film The Favourite – and it all made sense. They even share a cast member, Nicholas Hoult, who stars alongside Fanning as Emperor Peter III.
Filmed with a diverse cast, sumptuous sets and exquisite costumes, the show immerses the audience in the opulence of the Russian court, but McNamara’s script is utterly modern, laden with contemporary speak and plenty of naughty words.
While The Great takes creative liberties with historical events, it does so with purpose, using its anachronistic approach to shed light on timeless issues, especially around women’s agency and sexual freedom. And while it could rival any other period show on TV, there’s something irresistible about its playful, unserious approach to history.
Period shows can often feel like museum pieces, not to be tampered with. Self-identifying as ‘An Occasionally True Story,’, and an ‘Almost Entirely Untrue Story’, The Great is not a show for history buffs, or the easily offended – but it is a very fun watch. It weaves an alternate, satirical take on this particular chapter in history, and does it in spades.