THE GREAT – Review by Susan Granger

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Elle Fanning stars in this cheeky 18th century comedic drama about Catherine the Great of Russia, billed as “an occasionally true story.”

When optimistic 19 year-old Catherine (Fanning), daughter of a German aristocrat, arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage with Czar Peter III (Nicholas Hoult), she has no idea what a cruel, erratic idiot he is, more devoted to his whores and horses than her or his country.

Since better educated, bookish Catherine is of little or no interest to him, aside from bearing him a son, Peter appoints Leo (Sebastian de Souza) to be her lover, since he’s known to have a large, but sterile organ.

“Peter did not have an entirely bad heart,” Catherine once observed, “but a weak man usually does not.”

So, as her husband wages a continuing war with Sweden, Catherine systematically gathers her own idealistic power base, including her lady-in-waiting Marial (Phoebe Fox) and Count Orlo (Sacha Dhawan).

It was Orlo who came up with the diabolical plan: “It is better we secure the palace, arrest him, get him to sign an abdication, send him to house arrest, and then burn the house down…”

Eventually, Catherine has Peter deposed in a 1762 coup, so she becomes Empress of Russia, determined to bring female education and enlightenment through the arts and science to her people.

Scripted by showrunner Tony McNamara (co-writer of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite) the 10 hour-long episodes, filled with absurd palace intrigue and farcical depravity, are of varying quality, cohesion and interest.

One major aberration is presenting Peter III as Peter the Great’s son; in reality, he was his grandson.

This mini-series has no relation to nor should be confused with last year’s HBO mini-series Catherine the Great, starring Helen Mirren. And for those who enjoy old movies, back in 1934, the Russian ruler was embodied by Marlene Dietrich in The Scarlet Empress.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, The Great is a bawdy, satirical 7, a royal romp.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.