Julie and I are loving the Hulu series “The Great,” about the rise to power of Catherine the Great, 18th Century empress of Russia. It’s funny, appalling, endearing, tragic, bawdy, super-violent and often sad all at once. It’s visually gorgeous, with good-looking costumes and actors. Elle Fanning stands out as Catherine, who seems at first to be a beautiful nincompoop but turns out to have mettle.
The subtitle for “The Great” is “an occasionally true story.” I don’t remember much about Catherine the Great’s history so I can’t tell you where they play fast and loose with the facts.
The actor Nicholas Hoult is great as Peter, the emperor. Not Peter the Great: that was his father, and in this case, the apple fell very far indeed from the tree. Peter is a narcissist and a dope. Peter wants to be loved and feared, but the best he can do is evoking fear and contempt. He’s basically Michael Scott from The Office, if Michael Scott had been boy-band pretty and could have sex with any woman he wanted to, and kill anybody anytime he wanted to. He actually thinks all his power comes from his own merit, and that his people love him.
Of course, Peter is in no way reminiscent of any world leader today.
Sacha Dhawan is also terrific as Orlov. Doctor Who fans will remember Dhawan as the villainous Master on the last season of DW. He’s almost as good in The Great as he was in DW, though I do miss his big, insane grin as the Master. Here he’s a milquetoast.
Other supporting characters and actors are also outstanding.
Casting is colorblind, at least for minor characters. So Peter has Black courtiers, and Dhawan is of course East Asian. Would’ve been nice to see more PoCs in more prominent roles but what the heck.
One of the things that stands out about The Great is the use of language. They do an excellent job mixing contemporary 21st Century English with a seasoning of period language for flavor. (The Apple TV series “Dickinson” tried to do the same, but did it badly – I found myself yearning to hear 19th Century language and music, rather than the contemporary language and hip-hop the show used.) Characters drop an awful lot of F-bombs. And they also say “Huzzah!” frequently, which Julie and I have started to do with each other.
But In actual fact, Russians have never ever said ‘Huzzah!’