History with a Twist – Exploring the Brilliance of ‘The Great'”

I Love History!
I love historical novels, movies and TV shows. I’ve written several blog posts on how to avoid pitfalls in writing historical novels and TV shows. Having said that, it’s such a refreshing thing to watch the TV show “
The Great”. It puts a whole different spin on what a historical movie/TV show should be.

History on television can sometimes feel stuffy, bogged down by accuracy. But then there’s “The Great,” a show that throws historical fact out the window in favour of a wildly entertaining, darkly comedic take on Catherine the Great’s rise to power.

Here Are 8 Reasons Why “The Great” is Royally Awesome.

#1 – Satire with a Bite.

Forget damsels in distress. Catherine (Elle Fanning) is a firecracker trapped in a backward court. Her sharp wit and frustration clash brilliantly with the scheming advisors and her clueless, often cruel husband Peter (Nicholas Hoult). 

But “The Great” goes beyond humour. It uses satire to skewer the absurdity of absolute power and unchecked ambition. Take, for example, the scene where Catherine proposes a public library, only to be met with Peter’s ridiculous suggestion of filling it with pictures of himself hunting bears. This perfectly encapsulates the show’s ability to use humour to expose the folly of unchecked power.  

Another brilliant example is the ongoing debate about the merits of forks versus hands.  While seemingly absurd, it highlights the clash between Catherine’s desire for modernisation and the entrenched resistance to change within the court.

#2 – History Unbuttoned.

Ditch the stuffy costumes and predictable plots. “The Great” embraces anachronisms and absurdity. The costumes are a playful mix of historical inspiration and modern flair, with fur-trimmed jackets that wouldn’t look out of place on a contemporary runway. 

The dialogue sparkles with contemporary references, with characters dropping terms like “hot mess” and “guilt trip.”

The court itself feels more like a dysfunctional family reunion than a seat of power. Imagine a lavish palace filled with gossiping courtiers, drunken brawls, and power struggles that would make a modern reality show look tame. That’s the kind of refreshingly unstuffy history “The Great” delivers

#3 – Characters You Can’t Look Away From.

The Great” boasts a cast that steals every scene. Fanning is a revelation as Catherine, capturing both steely determination (remember the empowering scene where she declares, “I will be the ruler!”) and a vulnerability that makes you root for her. 

Hoult is equally brilliant as the unpredictable Peter, a strangely endearing man-child king. He delivers his lines with hilarious deadpan humour, as seen in the scene where he casually suggests setting fire to a rival’s beard.

From the scheming Orlo (Sacha Dhawan), whose double-dealing is as captivating as it is untrustworthy, to Catherine’s loyal confidante Marial (Phoebe Fox), who provides a voice of reason amidst the chaos, the supporting cast is a treasure trove of captivating personalities.

#4 – A Celebration of Women’s Power.

Don’t be fooled by the laughs. “The Great” tackles serious issues of gender inequality.

Catherine’s journey is one of defying expectations and forging her own path in a world dominated by men. In a particularly powerful scene, Catherine confronts a group of dismissive noblemen, declaring her right to rule. 

The show sheds light on the power struggles within a historical context, offering a fresh perspective on women’s roles in society. Catherine’s transformation from a naive bride, constantly underestimated by the men around her, to a formidable ruler who demands respect is a testament to the show’s empowering message.

#5 – Visually Striking & Audacious.

The Great” isn’t just funny, it’s visually stunning. The palace interiors are opulent eye candy, with colour and extravagant details.

Think jewel-toned walls, glittering chandeliers, and enough fur to make a yeti jealous. Yet, a sense of danger and claustrophobia lurks beneath the surface, reflecting the precariousness of Catherine’s position.  The camerawork is equally masterful. 

Take, for instance, the scene where Catherine and Peter walk through a long, echoing hallway, the camera emphasising the vastness of the palace and the isolation of their positions. The editing is sharp and dynamic, adding another layer to the show’s unique tone.


#6 – Sharp Dialogue and Wordplay.

The script crackles with brilliance. Dialogue is a delightful blend of sharp observations, laugh-out-loud moments, and clever wordplay. The use of modern references is particularly impressive, keeping you guessing and engaged.  

In one witty exchange, Catherine describes the court as a “clusterfudge,” a hilarious anachronism that perfectly captures the situation’s absurdity. 

Another laugh-out-loud moment comes when Peter, frustrated by Catherine’s attempts at reform, declares that the peasants need “bread and less, uh…enlightenment.”

#7 – Perfect Blend of Drama and Comedy.

The Great” seamlessly weaves together drama and comedy. It effortlessly shifts between moments of high tension and laugh-out-loud humour, keeping you on the edge of your seat while tickling your funny bone. 

One minute, you might be worried about Catherine’s safety as she navigates the treacherous court, and the next, you’re doubled over with laughter at Peter’s latest ridiculous antics.

Remember the scene where Catherine and her allies are desperately trying to secure her future, only to be interrupted by a bumbling attempt at a coup by a group of drunken guards? It’s a perfect example of how the show balances humour and suspense.

#8 – Nuanced Character Development.

The Great” excels in character development. Each character embarks on a transformative journey, grappling with their desires, flaws, and moral dilemmas. Whether it’s Catherine’s thirst for power, Peter’s insecurities, or the court’s scheming games, each character is given depth and complexity, making the narrative all the more intriguing. 

Catherine, for instance, starts out as a young woman yearning for love and a better life. But as she navigates the brutal realities of court life, she transforms into a shrewd and cunning ruler. 

Peter, on the other hand, is initially portrayed as a buffoonish oaf. However, glimpses of his intelligence and vulnerability emerge throughout the story, making him a surprisingly compelling character.  Even minor characters like Orlo keep you guessing. Is he truly devoted to Catherine, or is he playing his long game? This constant sense of surprise and character development keeps you invested in the story.

The Verdict: A Show Fit for a Tsar (or Just You on Your Couch) – The Great” isn’t your typical history lesson. It’s a show that sparks curiosity about the period while entertaining you with its dark humour, sharp wit, and compelling characters. It proves you can learn something new while laughing until your sides hurt. So, ditch the documentaries and dive into the hilarious world of “The Great.” You won’t regret it.

Now it’s YOUR turn – I would love to hear your thoughts about he show.

Would love to get your input in the comment box below.

2 thoughts on “History with a Twist – Exploring the Brilliance of ‘The Great'””

  1. Zanna Cardash

    100% agree. Fantastically bawdy, funny, sexy, colourful, surprising, shocking and, above all, original. Superb casting and performances all round. LOVED IT and recommended it to everyone I know.

    1. I totally agree Zanna. It’s such a great way to present history (even when not accurate) it just makes people become more curious about it.

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