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Catherine the Great is back on screen: a new season of The Great premieres


By Follower of Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder - Kunsthistorisches Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4724494

The second season of The Great from Hulu has premiered in the United States and Canada and will be premiering in the United Kingdom on 5 December. The popular period drama is a fictional take on Catherine the Great’s early reign. 

The Great was written by Tony McNamara, an Australian playwright and author, who also wrote the screenplay for the 2018 film The Favourite. The Favourite featured Olivia Colman as the last Stuart Queen, Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as the Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah Churchill, and Emma Stone as Abigail Masham, Baroness Masham. 

The Great is a creative and humorous look at Catherine’s early reign. Each episode’s title card notes that it is “An Occasionally True Story,” and this is accurate. The characters and events are loosely inspired by history, but it is in no way a history lesson. 

The historic Catherine the Great ruled Russia from 1762 to 1796 after seizing the throne from her husband, Emperor Peter III. She was the last female ruler of Russia and brought Russia into the Enlightenment.

Elle Fanning stars as the young Empress Catherine and Nicholas Hoult as Emperor Peter III. The first season saw the couple meet, marry, and struggle through wildly different personalities and approaches to ruling. 

The second season follows Catherine as she seizes the throne and sets out to change Russia. Gillian Anderson has joined the second season of The Great as Catherine’s mother, Princess Joanna-Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp. 

The Great is not historically accurate and is incredibly upfront with that. The historic Peter III was overthrown six months into his reign and died just over a month later; The Great’s Peter is very much alive and ridiculous for both seasons. 

We don’t often get humorous interpretations of the past, and it revels in the absurd. Fanning and Hoult do a wonderful job of bringing the fictional Catherine and Peter to life and making the oftentimes violent and bizarre court highly entertaining and watchable. 

Many viewers of period dramas insist on accuracy down to the last strand of hair, but The Great has thrown that out the window from the first episode. If you want to watch a royally-inspired period drama, The Great is a unique and entertaining take on the longest-reigning female ruler in Russia. 

About author

Historian and blogger at AnHistorianAboutTown.com