The Handbook
The Handbook

Dirty, rude and absurd but gloriously fun to watch, here’s why Hulu’s The Great, set to hit screens this June, is going to be your new TV obsession.

What’s it about?

Essentially The Great is a very modern story about the past with a heap of creative licence used. It follows Russia’s longest running female monarch, Catherine the Great and her scandalous rise to the throne, which she did by famously overthrowing her husband, Emperor Peter III.

It starts with Catherine arriving in Russia for her arranged marriage to her hugely unpopular husband and moves through the many roles she adapted to over her lifetime, from love to teacher, ruler to friend and, above all, fighter.

Full of sex, violence and crude wit, the series isn’t for the faint of heart, but it seems neither was Catherine herself. It’s well documented that she had a penchant for penis-shaped and vulva-inspired furniture and a sexual appetite that would make even 2006 Russell Brand blush.

So how true to history is it?

Kind of. They’ve definitely cut out all the boring bits – this is very much an opulent and at times ridiculous TV drama, not a history lesson. In fact, the series is officially billed as an “occasionally true story.”

Yes, she was Russia’s longest reigning female monarch and did overthrow her husband, but the script writers have used a hell of a lot of creative license on top. Let’s just say it’s splendidly and unashamedly inaccurate.

Who’s in it?

Elle Fanning takes the lead as Catherine and it’s without a doubt her most grown-up role to date. Although she looks like butter wouldn’t melt, she plays out the initially underestimated protagonist well intro what become a savage powerhouse. Fanning also worked as an executive producer on the production.

Alongside her is Nicholas Hoult, who plays her dreadful husband. Hoult is well suited to white stockings and a bit of pomp and ruff as demonstrated in his brilliantly camp performance as Harley in The Favourite. 

That brings us to the writer and programme creator. Tony McNamara, the Oscar-nominated co-writer of The Favourite, created, wrote, and executive produced The Great. And his love of dark period comedy and offbeat style is clearly here to stay. You only have to look at the promo picture of Fanning as Catherine giving a confident middle finger to know that The Great is no ordinary period drama.

Anything else?

The costumes are out of this world – this Marie Antoinette meets Christian Dior couture by way of Russia. Designed by Emma Fryer, who’s worked on many British TV series such as Grantchester and Silent Witness, as well as the more fashion forward, South of France set, Riviera. 

The Great is definitely her biggest gig to date with big, bold, frothy costumes, a macaron-hued colour palette and lashing of leopard print – and that last one’s just for Nicholas Hoult’s character. Fryer was particularly inspired by the V&A’s hugely successful Christian Dior exhibition – expect those quintessentially 18th century silhouettes dripped in pearls, big hair and plenty of feathers.

When can we watch it?

The 10-part series is set to premier in the UK this June on Channel 4. Full of sex, mischief and dastardly humour, don’t even bother tuning in if you’re easily offended.


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