'The Great' hilariously deconstructs societal norms set up for women through Elle Fanning's Catherine
'The Great' starring Elle Fanning and Nicolas Hoult is a period drama that rewrites how Catherine the Great took the throne with a few references to the real story
Long long ago, once upon a time, a prince in shining armor would ride on a horse to sweep you off your feet. This is the common thread in all fairytales that are fed to young girls even today. 'The Great' is a show which takes all lies fed to women by a society patriarchal in nature and deconstructs it in the most hilarious of ways through Catherine (Elle Fanning). She is a young woman who believes that eating strawberries equates with exceptional wealth at home. She also believes that the first night after her wedding to the Russian King Peter III (Nicholas Hoult) would be filled will passion, compassion, and otherworldy mindnumbing sex.
Of course, all of this is torn down to shreds. A woman who loves arts, books, and science, is sent to a country where women are not allowed to talk, forget reading. Her naivete is the source of all comedy in the initial episodes as she tries to navigate this strange world where women have no agency over themselves. Her husband enters her apartments at the strangest times for sex because it is his responsibility to get her pregnant but otherwise the man and woman have nothing in common. The King is a blundering idiot at first glance. All that he is capable of is living the life fo a playboy who is throws tantrums like a spoilt brat every ten minutes.
For Catherine to survive amid people like Peter and his friends and family is impossible. The first thing she tries is to escape from is the nightmare and return to what used to be familiar. Of course, Peter cannot let that happen so he teaches her a lesson by waterboarding her. Peter kills the bear that he had got her as a wedding gift and Catherine slaps him in front of the court. This results in Catherine getting punched in private and that is the last straw really. This punch is what pushes Catherine from wanting to fall in love with her husband to wanting to escape from him. When even that route is shut, she wants to take her own life.
Catherine's decisions when it comes to dealing with Peter is a reflection of decisions that many women take when faced with a similar choice. The reliability with the show, despite it being a period drama comes from the fact that women have been fed the same lies since the beginning of time and they had to wrestle with powers beyond their "station" to claim their rights.
From wanting to kill herself to wanting to kill her husband, Catherine is saved by an idea that her servant gives her in an offhanded manner. Like if the King were to die, then the throne would belong to the queen for her to do as she wishes. The only condition is not having an heir in the equation. Why kill myself when I can kill the king and change a country for the better? That is the question that pushes Catherine to plan a coup.
At a time when the concept of birth control was foreign, how could Catherine ensure not getting pregnant? Again, it is Marial (Phoebe Fox), yet again who comes to her rescue with a piece of lemon that can be stuffed in the vagina to act as a guard. Instances like this is what adds the element of humor to the show that is actually about overthrowing the king.
There is also Archie, a Godsman who represents another body that worked as hard as it could to put women in their place. Catherine also has to face obstacles raised by this man as a part of pulling off a successful coup and until the end, we see very little of court politics and more of Catherine flitting between wanting to teach her husband a lesson by planning a coup to wanting to change Russia with his help.
In fact, even towards the end, she is caught between the coup and the change that she could bring about in Russia.
All episodes of 'The Great' can be streamed on Hulu from May 15.