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Review: Surreal and Satirical, 'The Great' Fits the Moment

by Michael  Cox
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Oct 20, 2020
Review: Surreal and Satirical, 'The Great' Fits the Moment

A couple of years ago an odd film started appearing on a variety of best of the year lists. It took place in the 18th Century and involved a strange castle, steeped in peculiar courtly manners. It also involved Sapphic sadism, a cutthroat sex triangle, and bunnies, lots and lots of bunnies.

This movie, "The Favourite," made no attempt to be historically accurate or even true to the time period, but its bizarre screenplay went on to be nominated for a number of awards, like the British Independent Film Awards, the Golden Globes and even the Oscars.

In May of this year, Hulu release a series created by the Australian writer of that film, Tony McNamara, called "The Great." Set in the 18th Century as well, and revolving around an even more outlandish courtly society, this series is very loosely based on the rise of Catherine the Great, the longest-reigning female ruler in Russian history. If you're an expert in the subject, or if you're even familiar with the writers and philosophers of the time period, get ready to abandon all your knowledge or prepare to be disappointed. But if you want to laugh out loud and luxuriate in satire, this series lives up to its name.

Young Catherine (Elle Fanning) arrives in Russia with big ideas, romantic notions and blind optimism, only to find herself in the middle of the surrealistically horrifying court of Emperor Peter III (Nicholas Hoult). The Emperor is a petulant child, power-mad man, with no sense of dignity, in constant need of approbation and with no one to keep him in check. What's worse—Catherine is to be his wife.

It's a dark period for Russia, and Catherine would rather end her life than go on living in this revolting kingdom. Then her lady's maid Marial (Marian Macgowan) reminds her of the fact that if the Emperor were simply killed, she would be the ruler of All Russia. She could transform the kingdom and bring in the Golden Age of Russia.

Though it may look less like Tsarist Russia and more like this year's Presidential debate—absurd and frightening—this show is well worth watching. Smart, hilarious and all too relevant, "The Great" is political bodice-ripper, allowing the viewer a nearly universal if forbidden fantasy—a coup d'état, the opportunity to execute a depraved, power-mad ruler and lead the country into an age of Enlightenment.

Now available on DVD, this 4-disc set includes interviews with McNamara and the cast, behind-the-scenes tours and a look at the opulent production design.

"The Great: Season One"
DVD $29.99

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