Skip to comments.An Ahistorical, Surprisingly Dull Mess, Hulu’s ‘The Great’ Is Anything But
Posted on 07/24/2020 7:56:07 AM PDT by Kaslin
The show thinks it's subversive and daring with its humor, but the only shock is how relentlessly dull it is, regardless of themes and imagery.
For those who shudder at historical inaccuracies in biopics, stay far away from Hulus The Great. The show does not even pretend to care about historical accuracy, opening each episode with the caveat, an occasionally true story.
The show loosely tells the story of the early days of Catherine the Greats (Elle Fanning) marriage to Emperor Peter III of Russia (Nicholas Hoult) as she plots a coup to kill her incompetent and cruel husband to take the throne herself.
The series was created by Tony McNamara, the screenwriter of 2018 film The Favourite, which explored the court of Queen Anne with anachronisms, vulgarity, and a modern sensibility applied to historical court life. The influence is clearly shown in The Great, which is very different from other films and series set in this period.
Its rare to find a costume drama that has a threesome within the first 20 minutes. In fact, few period pieces reach the level of crassness attained by The Great. Between the swearing, crude sexual references, and purposely untitilating sex scenes, this is not a show to watch with your parents. Further, for anyone familiar with the equestrian rumors about the queen, they are certainly addressed unambiguously.
The Great definitely does not fit into the mold of nice PG films that show a romanticized view of the past, serious dramas that explore history and the trials of major figures, or the sexy soap operas focused on the personal lives and affairs of the royal court.
This would be exciting, if the series were any good. The show thinks its subversive and daring with its humor, but the only shock is how relentlessly dull it is, regardless of themes and imagery. Theres a great story held up by interesting albeit variable performances, but the script cuts any enjoyment off at the knees. The writers appear to believe that our collective senses of humor can be shocked by crude humor and bad language.
Its such a shame, because when the series wants to, it can be outrageously funny. There are several spectacular jokes established through Catherines misunderstanding of circumstances, which are paid off when everything fails spectacularly. I wish there were more of this throughout the series, as the writers were masterful in establishing expectations only to subvert them for a laugh. Unfortunately, the funniest parts of the show were few and far between.
The writers dont trust their audience and actors to handle the more mature and intelligent jokes, opting instead to rest on lazy, crude humor whose only punchline is its attempt to appear transgressive. But they even misunderstand what is shocking. Compared to other offerings on the pop culture market, the jokes feel stale, as everything has been done before and done better.
Despite a few weak links, the cast and characters are at least enjoyable and interesting. The eponymous Catherine is in a different series than those around her. Elle Fanning plays the young queen with a wide-eyed naïveté that is thoroughly out of sync with the world around her.
The series is Fannings first comedic role, which does show somewhat. However, any awkwardness on her part is easily compensated by her dramatic talent. Catherines role as a fish-out-of-water actually suits her performance, allowing her to play the role within her more traditional comfort zone, which supplements many of the better punch lines.
Her husband, Peter, is a scoundrel through and through. A completely ineffectual leader and incompetent husband, he spends his days drunkenly goofing off with his advisors, threatening anyone who upsets his fragile worldview, and sleeping with his best friends wife. The over-entitled monarch with crippling mommy issues and an adoration for excess would not feel out of place in the wildest of fraternities. His group of advisors and friends are more akin to a frat than a governing body.
Nicholas Hoult plays Peter with a puppy dog earnestness that somehow makes the thoroughly unredeemable king shockingly likable. There is no doubt that Peter is an awful person, but Hoult has this air that imbues any character he portrays with such life that it is impossible not to be somewhat charmed by him, from the sadistic Tony Stonem in Skins to the foppish schemer Robert Harley in The Favourite. Hoult is easily one of the most underrated actors working today, with excellent comedic timing and strong dramatic chops, and his Peter easily steals the series.
Hoult is the best part of the series. He balances the absurd and crude material with a shocking humanity, which walks the fine line between being fun and likable but never sympathetic. He also appears to know better than anyone else how to bring life and humor into his scenes. It will be to the detriment of the show that, as history marches on in season two, he will likely have a much smaller role as Catherine builds her empire, eventually leaving the show for good. I certainly will be less interested in the post-Peter series.
Sacha Dewan (The History Boys) and Sebastian de Souza (Skins) likewise are fun and likable as Catherines allies, an intellectual lord and dimwitted preassigned lover respectively. Gwyllim Lee (Bohemian Rhapsody) handles the many facets of Peters tormented best friend, who must sit by while his king has a public affair with his wife.
However, a few central figures are grating, detracting from the show due to their importance. Phoebe Fox (The Hollow Crown) plays Catherines attendant and confidant, Mariel, an embittered noblewoman turned servant with a fierce edge. Between the writing and Foxs performance, Mariel is far less the fun and engaging character she is supposed to be.
Instead, her anger renders her surprisingly one-note and banal, especially since she is meant to be a more likable and righteous character. It does not help her likability that Mariel is often used as a conduit for anachronistic and annoyingly on-the-nose feminist commentary.
Likewise, Belinda Bromilow (Doctor Doctor) plays Peters aunt, Elizabeth, as an out-of-it and hypersexual nut. This portrayal is a mischaracterization of a bright and benevolent woman who was empress of Russia, and to this day is a deeply respected and beloved figure of Russian history. It would have been far more interesting to have Aunt Elizabeth shown in a closer light to her historical counterpart, as she wholly deserves a more accurate cinematic portrayal.
The ahistorical take is in direct assault on a rather interesting and complicated historical period. Rather than look into the complex and interesting period explored, McNamara instead paints Russia as a primitive culture, wholly meriting mockery. The reductive take on both Russia and Peter belies a far more interesting tale. Theres nothing wrong with taking liberties to translate history to screen, but it should only be done to make the story more interesting, not less.
The show is not worth the 10 hours it takes from your life. Hoults performance gets close, but the shows frustrating banality kills any goodwill or momentum established by the legitimately good elements.
“The Great”. Well crap. I thought it was the hildabeast bio-pic we’ve all been waiting for. :-)
I could tell by the trailers that it would be the same type of silly-assed crap as "The Favourite". Pass.
Well what can I say? LOL
The only shocking thing left would be, perhaps, a film adaptation of De Sade’s “Philosophy in the Bedroom.”
I suffered through the first episode and pulled a Roberto Duran. No mas!
On Amazon Prime there is a Russian show about Catherine the Great called “Ekaterina”. While it’s historical accuracy is suspect, it’s not too far off and the actress who plays Catherine is stunningly beautiful.
I love The Scarlet Empress.
She Vants to be alone! :-)
How does John Paul Jones come off?
As far as I’ve seen it (Season 3 episode 3) Jones hasn’t appeared yet.
Another example of the arrogance & incompetence of Hollyweird. We (as in Hollyweird) can do history better then history !
[Another example of the arrogance & incompetence of Hollyweird. We (as in Hollyweird) can do history better then history !]
I’ve found that foreign film do better with their own history then we do.
Oh come on.
It is what used to be called a romp.
Pretty girls being sexy. Madcap rulers being madcap.
Actually, one of the things I liked about it was the use of minority actors. The were given roles. Period. There was not attempt to “explain” why a black person was a Russian Nobel...it just was. THAT is how you incorporate race into productions. You don’t.
It is not historically correct. It is slanted towards feminism.
But as I started out...it was fun if you don’t take it—or yourself (the generic third party, not you specifically) too serious.
With the way this culture is going, bestiality jokes are going to seem as dated and mean spirited as Monty Python’s cross-dressers and jokes about homosexuals do today.
In the 60s/70s filmmakers and directors made adaptations from the works of DeSade
And in the late 80s they made an adaption of his life with people that look like dogs and horses
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