REVIEW: ‘The Great’ (2020) is Hilariously Outrageous and Charming

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“McNamara is a visionary at capturing the tension of a period and blending in laugh-out-loud amusement in times of strife.”

From the mind that helped bring us an Academy Award nominated (and robbed) screenplay , Tony McNamara’s new original series on Hulu is an eclectic and dynamic achievement. Having  co-wrote Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2018 18th century comedy-drama, The Favourite, McNamara has impressively innovated on his creative prowess. Before moving forward, making a brief note of its similarities to a Best Picture nominee is fitting. Terrific ensemble cast? Check! Sublime set design? Of course! Compelling score? Sure! Nicholas Hoult portraying a despicable aristocratic man whose measured unpleasantness somehow equips him with a charismatic whimsy? Why yes, he is more than perfect for the role! Certainly, it was inevitable that The Great would receive comparisons to McNamara’s previous success, but this mini-series is a standalone. McNamara is a visionary at capturing the tension of a period and blending in laugh-out-loud amusement in times of strife; while the writer’s style lends itself to an overall imaginative reforming of historical events, what remains is the spirit of the political moment alongside an empathetic creation of historical figures.

Based on the Catherine II’s strategic attempt for ascension to the Russian throne, The Great functions as an intimate character study of the Empress (Elle Fanning) in which on the surface travels back to the past and allows the audience a glimpse into courtly life – however, beyond that, everything about this series is modern. The magic and brilliance of The Great is found in its liveliness that demonstrates our endless connection to the past: from its commentary on female liberation to an unabashed playfulness with sexuality, there truly are zero flaws to discuss. Oh, and one simply cannot forget to mention that The Great is ostentatiously hysterical, in every sense of the word. Even in moments of shock and mania, particularly when Catherine comes to realize the corruption and malicious qualities of her husband and Emperor of Russia, Peter III (Nicholas Hoult), an unbridle absurdity throughout every episode only leaves the audience the choice to chuckle (or cackle) at the dialogue. McNamara’s creation allows for a remarkable and all together seamless chemistry between every character; it is almost as if all the plotting and atypical relationships between characters facilitates a certain bond, one in which the audience is intimately keyed in. The intricate writing allows the audience to laugh at both the foolish and the ghastly; thus, subtle and intellectual humor is undeniably the best sort, and The Great is filled with it. If you are a fan of non-stop dry humor and straightforward banter that is stealthily funny, then The Great is for you.

Even if you are not particularly captivated by the approach of humor, surely the element of charm this series presents is something worthy for all viewers. From this, the heart of The Great is Fanning’s miraculous performance. Someone just hand over all the awards to her immediately. No use in prolonging the wait. Catherine is depicted as more than solely curious and ambitious in her initial role in the Russian empire; beyond her rebellious streak, what this woman possesses cannot be abbreviated by her power (or lack thereof). This layered and nuanced exhibition of showstopping acting is nothing short of impeccable. It is simply impossible to not be dazzled with every one of her frequent appearances on-screen, either with scenes of pure comedic genius or convincing melancholy. What stimulates Fanning’s triumphant execution is essentially how the entire series preserves its fanciful comedy: with bountiful ingenuity and tongue-in-cheek humor. Let’s put it this way: The Great is driven by one character and, in large part, propelled into a category that exceeds great via a stunning portrayal of a ferocious and endearing female protagonist. Now that deserves a huzzah!

Created by: Tony McNamara

Prod: Nick O’Hagan, Dean O’Toole

Cast: Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult, Phoebe Fox, Sacha Dhawan, Charity Wakefield, Gwilym Lee, Adam Godley, Douglas Hodge, Belinda Bromilow, Bayo Gbadamosi, Sebastian de Souza, etc.

Release Date: May 15, 2020

Available on: Hulu