Hulu's 'The Great' is a Fun, Satirical Take on Russian History

Published on May 18, 2020

Before watching, I had high hopes The Great. A good historical TV show is one of my favorite things and I have a fascination with royals, both past, and present.

The Story

Hulu’s latest original follows Elle Fanning’s Catherine the Great and her rise to power as the Empress of Russia. Her husband, Emperor Peter III, is played by Nicholas Hoult. Hoult’s character is an awful display of everything wrong with the rich and powerful of the past, and he embodies it well. Fanning similarly does an excellent job playing the optimistic intelligence and silent power of Catherine the Great during her early years in Russia.

Admittedly, The Great is a good bit raunchier than I had expected. The overtly sexual nature of the show is not actually surprising given the historical Empress’ notorious reputation for her sexuality. The raunchiness of the show’s material combines quite well with its satirical intent, but be warned. This show is not for the kids to watch. Or, for that matter, anyone who’s uncomfortable with strong language and blatant displays of sexual activity.

The comical vibe of the show is immediately apparent in the first episode. As the Empress adjusts to life in the Russian court, she comes across a few jarring yet humorous incidents. One of the most comical scenes in the first episode is the Empress’ introduction to the Emperor’s mother. The dead mother who Peter mummified and kept handy for occasional visits. It’s an immediate glimpse into what awaits with the twisted and cruel character of the Emperor.

The Great’s Strengths

To successfully portray the absurdities of European royalty, The Great forgoes any semblance of historical accuracy. The creators instead opt for a slightly goofy approach to the story of Russia’s Empress. Despite its sometimes silly portrayal of events, The Great provides a story with a powerful heroine we can root for.

By the end of the first episode, I am totally invested in the story, even though it’s ending is predicted by history. I want to see this woman overthrowing her absolute weenie of a husband and rule as the Empress of Russia.

Is this show the artful masterpiece that is The Crown? No, but it doesn’t try to be. Its strength comes from its unique approach to historical television and its satirical and not-entirely-accurate take on historical events. The Great is absolutely worth a watch, especially if you like a good royal drama and aren’t a stickler on accuracy.

Olivia Smith is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in San Francisco, she covers events, entertainment, fashion, and technology. She also serves as a Voices contributor at PopSugar.

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