The Great sets out it’s stall right at the beginning by declaring itself to be “An occasionally true story”, so anyone expecting a historically accurate affair will be disappointed. It’s quite possible everyone else will be too, at least by this first episode as this comedy drama which sees Elle Fanning take on the role of Catherine The Great is rather grim and disappointing viewing indeed. I’d high expectations as well as it’s written and produced by Tony McNamara, the man behind the sumptuous and superb The Favourite, but he fails to replicate that film’s success here.
Right at the beginning we learn that Catherine’s to be married to Emperor Peter (Nicholas Hoult), who’s oh, just a bit of a dick it seems as he makes it clear that he only cares about himself and is getting married as he needs an empress, and one who’s from aristocracy but isn’t in any way powerful. Then he’s off back to his whores, and soon at a feast he pushes people around and teases them about their lack of a sex life because the show is making sure we don’t like him from the get go, and his behaviour only gets worse after this.
Elle Fanning plays Catherine as an extreme optimist, full of warmth and kindness and willing to put up with the astonishing amount of shit that Peter spews upon her for far too long, and Fanning is superb in the lead role. But watching “Peter The Spoilt Cunt The Tv Show” sure does get tiring after a while, and there’s way too much of Peter’s boorish, priggish and tedious nonsense which isn’t funny in the slightest, though I feel we’re supposed to think it is sometimes like the way he talks about duck hunting while fucking Catherine and then fighting his various long suffering aides and assistants.
At least Catherine is on hand to generate the occasional funny moment, like her embarrassingly romantic view of what she thinks sex is, but they’re few and far apart and most of the time it’s exhausting witnessing the scales being removed from Catherine’s eyes and Peter acting like the worst kind of bully. With The Favourite McNamara made objectionable behaviour darkly funny but he’s failed to do that here as Peter is such an obnoxious and unlikeable character, and all Catherine does is suffer and suffer and suffer and it makes for ugly viewing indeed.
Anyone with knowledge of the true version of events will no doubt know that Peter doesn’t exactly live a long and fruitful life, but given that Hoult is appearing in all ten episodes it appears that we won’t be getting the entire story of Catherine’s life, and just her time with her all rather horrendous husband. Which is disappointing as while the ending suggests that Catherine isn’t going to take this madness for much longer we may well get nine more episodes of the character’s sparring, and judging by this opener it might not be that enjoyable. Either way McNamara thought it’d be entertaining to watch a woman treated distressingly cruelly for fifty minutes, and he was horribly wrong about that.