Huzzah! The Great Season Two Continues Its Raunchy Romp Through Russian History
Hulu’s The Great returned for its second season on Friday, and it continued to enthrall with its revisionist imagining of the early reign of Catherine the Great. Huzzah.
As the season begins, Team Catherine is still in conflict with Team Peter. Peter is still in a mixture of lust/love with Catherine, plus excited about the promise of a son and heir, who is already known as Paul. While we already have the predetermined knowledge that Catherine will win, half the fun is seeing how chaotic Peter is.
Once again, Nicholas Hoult manages to really shine as Peter. The character is overwhelmingly a dirtbag, but Hoult manages to be effortlessly charismatic in a way that makes you want him to make it out with his head. It doesn’t hurt that Hoult is very good at having Peter oscillate between childish rage and strangely mature insight.
Within the supporting cast, everyone is back playing their roles. Phoebe Fox, as the now-fully-back-at-court Lady Marial, retains her sharp wit while also retaining some of the empathy. Sacha Dhawan gets more to do as Count Orlo attempts to navigate his own family trying to take advantage of his rise. Douglas Hodge, as Velementov, gets some moments that elevate him beyond a joke character, especially with Peter. Belinda Bromilow, as Aunt Elizabeth, remains a wacky delight.
Among the guest stars, we have, of course, the long-awaited Gillian Anderson as Catherine’s mother, Joanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp, who plays mean mommy with the best of them, and Jason Isaacs as Peter’s father—in this canon, Peter the Great. The Sex Education cast just jumped over.
Let Catherine be great!
Elle Fanning as Catherine is a role that sometimes can be a bit thankless. She is just as funny as everyone else, but in the role of the straight woman in comparison to the court, it can strip Catherine of the teeth she had in real life.
One of the reasons Catherine was able to execute a successful coup in a week with the support of the church, the military, and the people, was because she understood Russia. She was seen as more Russian than Peter III, who was also German-born, could hardly speak Russian, and was in love with Prussia. Catherine was brilliant and a great manipulator of the court—something that is overwhelmingly missing on the show, especially when the topic of freeing the serfs comes up.
While I know it is satire, I just wish it didn’t have to remove almost everything that made Catherine really clever to make it work.
All-in-all, The Great continues to be a fun piece of satire that plays with the fact that most people are unaware of the history that is being played with. Elle Fanning and Nicolas Hoult have an electric chemistry that makes you glad that the series isn’t playing everything totally straight the way history did (à la Reign), but it can sometimes be frustrating seeing Catherine just sort of smile and positive thought her way through most situations.
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