TL;DR – There is an absurd chaos on display from start to finish.
The Great Review –
There is something so odd watching something proposing to be one thing but is another. There is a level of tonal dissonance that can take you out of the experience if there is not a deft hand on show. Today we look at a show that dances through history while ignoring actual events for a more engaging story.
So to set the scene, at the end of Season One, Catherine (Elle Fanning) finally made her move on Peter (Nicholas Hoult) with the help of her advisors Orlo (Sacha Dhawan) and Velementov (Douglas Hodge). Catherine had to sacrifice her lover to take the crown, but her love for Russia overtook her personal desires. However, Peter still has some support at court and weeks in. He still controls part of the Palace even though he is now surrounded. Time is short, and the one constant is everyone around Peter and Catherine has made it clear, they need to kill the other. Now from here, we will be looking at the season as a whole, so there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.
I should start this review with a warning, well, a couple of warnings. The first is that if you don’t like sex, violence, and coarse language, then this is not the show for you. If you know anything about Russian, Ottoman, Swedish, or just general European history from this time, you need to come into this series knowing that it takes some names and places and events. However, it is not creating a historically accurate portrayal of Catherine the Great’s reign, nor are they attempting to do. Indeed the subtitle on the final episode of the season Wedding calls it ‘An Almost Entirely Untrue Story’. It is a fictional story of real people, and if you are someone who researches in that area, it might be a significant barrier to get through. However, the story they are telling is worth it.
One of the show’s strengths is its production to show off the world they are building. Filming in England means a surplus of age-appropriate buildings for you to use, so with the use of some well-designed sets, you can create a level of opulence without having to build a lot. Now, I am not an expert, so I can’t say if the costumes, inventions, buildings are all correct for the time period. However, I can say that a lot of work has gone into creating a specific look and feel in the show that rings authentic because they have put the work in, even if the details don’t line up. It is so good that in those moments because of Covid, they had to do some green screen work to sub for locations that they could not access it is noticeable because of the work done elsewhere in the series.
The other strength is the cast, who are all there for this bonkers ride through history. There is no weak link in the cast as they isolate from one extreme to another. Everyone in this show feels to be both a caricature of a person and something real. I am not sure how they get that balance, so the setting and the writing give the actors the freedom to rip loose. There are those moments when you have to wonder why Catherine does not shoot the lot of them. Still, you also understand because Elle Fanning completely encapsulates the character of someone desperately trying to change things for the better and then slamming into the wall of a society that does not want to move an inch. This season was also supported by some amazing guest actors. Gillian Anderson was a sheer delight every moment she was on screen as Joanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp, Catherine’s mother. Also, Jason Isaacs, who can now add Peter the Great to the list of characters, including Sex Education and Star Trek Discovery, he has played that are real jerks.
From a narrative perspective, if Season One was all about Catherine taking power, Season Two is all about Catherine trying to govern. While also spending the whole time trying to work out how do you solve a problem like Peter? This is the season’s most significant strength but also its weakness. Watching Catherine try and keep things from falling apart while everyone around her has their own motivations, some of which are hostile, is where the show is at its best. However, the will they, won’t they Kill/Love each other got frustrating throughout the season, to the point where you just want them to get it over and put a bullet in one of the other.
In the end, do we recommend The Great Season Two? While I am not sure, it hit as well as the first season in ways. It was still a joy watching all the chaos unwind in the absurdity that is this show.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Great
Directed by – Colin Bucksey, Zetna Fuentes, Matthew Moore, & Ally Pankiw
Written by – Tony McNamara, Tami Sagher, Gretel Vella & Fiona Seres
Created by – Tony McNamara
Based on – The play by Tony McNamara
Production/Distribution Companies – Thruline Entertainment, Echo Lake Entertainment, Macgowan Films, Media Rights Capital (MRC) Channel 4, Hulu & Stan
Starring – Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult, Phoebe Fox, Sacha Dhawan, Charity Wakefield, Gwilym Lee, Adam Godley, Douglas Hodge, Belinda Bromilow, Bayo Gbadamosi & Danusia Samal with Sebastian de Souza, Blake Harrison, Julian Barratt, Gillian Anderson, Jason Isaacs, Dustin Demri-Burns, Claira Watson Parr, Jane Mahady, Timothy Walker, Ali Ariaie, Anthony Welsh, Freddie Fox, Nicholas Hoult, Grace Molony, Ramon Tikaram, Ninette Finch, Henry Meredith, Raphael Acloque & Billy Postlethwaite
Episodes Covered – Heads It’s Me, Dickhead, Alone at Last, The Devil’s Lunch, Animal Instincts, A Simple Jape, Stapler, Seven Days, Walnut Season & Wedding