Culture editor-at-large Michael Idato says diverging from the truth can work for a historical series if done well. He says it was McNamara’s position that as long the show remained true to Catherine the Great’s personality, then everything else was “up for grabs”.
“It’s a really beautiful twist on the historical drama genre,” Idato says. “It gives itself permission to play with all of the facts. It’s not Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but it’s rompy in a not-too-dissimilar way. I think what this has is an un-Americanness to it which is what I think is so appealing. I don’t know whether an American writer would have given himself permission to be quite so ridiculous.”
Deputy Spectrum editor Kylie Northover argues the performances helped reinforce the idea that The Great is a fusion of two traditionally different genres.
“I love that it’s got all the hallmarks of a big-budget period piece,” Northover says. “But this has no earnestness at all. For me it’s like an adult version of Horrible Histories. They’ve got all the stuff happening in the court that is perhaps exaggerated but we know did sort of happen.
“Nicholas Holt makes it for me. He’s just brilliant. He’s equal parts buffoon and arsehole.”
Idato agrees, arguing the show is a great example of how good acting is reacting. He says this likely stems from the fact The Great was originally written for the Sydney Theatre Company and not the small screen.
“This is written with the mischief of the stage. You don’t often see this,” he says. “All that kind of naughty that you would never get in a television show is still there because it was written … when it was designed for a much more intimate setting. I think that is what’s fresh and fun.”
Later on in the episode, the critics debate whether television remakes are necessary, dive into Blackadder and guess which Australian star was born on an Ansett jet. Listen to the entire episode via the player above or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to listen to the rest of the season.
Previous episodes cover the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King and the television adaption of Sally Rooney’s award-winning novel Normal People. The Great is available to stream now on Stan.
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