“For me, period stuff was always very polite and I wasn’t a huge fan of politeness,” admits creator and showrunner Tony McNamara about his new period comedy “The Great,” which has now debuted on Hulu. “I really wanted to tell Catherine the Great’s story, but I wanted to do it in a way that was fun for me to write and hopefully fun for the audience to watch.” Watch our exclusive video interview with McNamara above.
“The Great” is an uproarious genre-bending exploration of the early life of Catherine the Great, told with tongue firmly in cheek as it follows her rise from young outsider to the longest-reigning ruler in Russia’s history. Like McNamara’s Oscar-nominated screenplay for Yorgos Lanthimos‘ “The Favourite,” the series features razor-sharp dialogue, hilarious over the top performances (this time by leads Elle Fanning as Catherine and Nicholas Hoult as Emperor Peter) and lavish production and costume design.
It is an edgier, more contemporary take on an especially depraved and backward 18th century Russia, that according to Hulu’s clever advertising campaign for the show “occasionally” incorporates historical facts. Catherine arrives in Russia after it is arranged for her to marry Peter, but she soon realizes that if she is going to survive, she will need to usurp her new husband Peter and take the crown herself. To do so, all she has to do is kill her husband, beat the church, baffle the military and get the court onside.
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“I wanted it to be a contemporary story wrapped in a period story so that it was relatable to us rather than just looking back at something that happened,” McNamara explains. “It was much more like ‘oh, that’s just like when I married the wrong man and wanted to kill him,’ things like that,” he jokes.
Of all the historical figures to focus on, McNamara says the Russian empress was a no-brainer because of her cultural and historical impact. “I was interested in her rise to power,” he reveals. “How are you a 20 year old kid who arrives in a country, who doesn’t speak the language, who’s married off to an idiot and you’re in this political system and somehow you take over the country and run it for the longest time and at the same time you do amazing things like you keep the Enlightenment alive, you start women’s education, you start science, you bring art, you invent the roller coaster and you’re also complicated and funny and certainly not perfect.”
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