(Last updated November 20, 2020)

A scene from the movie The Great © Hulu.

The satirical drama series The Great tells the (sometimes true) story of a German princess plotting a coup against her own husband, the embarrassing and useless Russian emperor, with the generous (sometimes rather sinister) help of English humor….

Making Russia Great Again

At the beginning of the series, we learn that the Grand Master is sometimes based on real facts….

If the series is based on the real story of Czarina Catherine II in the 18th century, it is not. Century, which was called Catherine the Great. In real life, Catherine II was born on the 2nd. May 1729 born under the name Sophia Anhalt-Zerbstskaya and married in 1745, at the age of 16, to the Crown Prince of Russia.

When Catherine first met Peter the Great. Hulu

In this series, however, Peter is already emperor when Sophie (Catherine) arrives at court, while the real Peter did not become emperor of Russia until 1762.

Moreover, the reign of the real Peter III lasted only six months before the real Catherine managed to overthrow him by a coup (or, in other words, an uprising) and become the sole empress of Russia after his mysterious death.

Pierre and Catherine in Veliky. Hulu

But as in the series, the real Catherine (played by American actress Elle Fanning) was extremely unhappy with her arranged marriage to the current Russian emperor, her husband Peter III (played by English actor Nicholas Hoult).

She soon learns that at the court of Peter III, if something is going well, she should use the word Uza! and preferably break the glass into pieces. But, uh, that’s all Katherine and Peter have in common. That is all that Katherine and Peter have in common…

Then Catherine, like you, begins plotting and seeking supporters for her cause of getting rid of her useless imperial husband and becoming the sole ruler of Russia ……

Create a fake Russia….

Although the filming of The Great took place in and around St. Petersburg, it was not recorded in Russia. Instead, the film crew traveled to Italy and England.

A scene from The Great. Hulu

The main filming location in Italy was the Royal Palace of Caserta, located about 30 kilometers from the city of Naples in southern Italy. The King of Naples originally built this palace to compete with the super palace of Versailles in France.

Many exterior shots of the Peter and Paul Palace and Catherine the Great’s Palace in St. Petersburg were made here, as were interior shots of the Grand Staircase.

A scene from The Great. Hulu

The main filming location in England was Hatfield’s house in Hertfordshire, about an hour’s drive from London. When the figures of the Great walk down a long corridor, it is the long gallery of Hatfield’s house.

Hatfield House is a popular film location and you may have seen it in other TV and film productions such as The King’s Speech (2010), the Netflix series The Crown (2016- ) or the period drama The Favorite (2018), which I wrote a separate post about on my blog.

To learn more about the location of Hatfield House, check out the review of the film My Loved Ones (2018).

Other locations for the film Great in England include Hever Castle and St Clair Manor in Kent, Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, Ham House in Richmond, Surrey and Howard Castle in York, North Yorkshire.

To learn more about the locations of the film The Great One, check out the special post on the film’s locations.

A scene from The Great. Hulu

Call on Real Russia

In real life, Catherine and Peter lived in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Today this old palace is what is known as the Hermitage.

The Hermitage is now considered the second largest museum in the world, after the Louvre in Paris, thanks to Catherine la Grande’s extensive collection of artworks.

So, if you’re coming to St. Petersburg, don’t forget to plan a visit to the Hermitage. It is a must-see visit and you will not be disappointed.

The Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Sonia Irani / FilmFanTravel.com

You can also visit the beautiful Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin, which is close to St. Petersburg but easily accessible by tourist bus.

Catherine’s Palace near St. Petersburg. Sonia Irani / FilmFanTravel.com

Catherine’s Palace is not named after Catherine the Great, but after Catherine I (the wife of Peter the Great). Contrary to what this series says, Peter III was in fact the grandson of Peter the Great, not his son.

Today, Catherine’s palace is not only beautiful on the outside, but you’ll be impressed by the tons of gold inside. Unsurprisingly, the interior of Catherine’s palace was also used as one of the locations for the BBC series War and Peace (2016).

At Catherine’s Palace. Sonia Irani / FilmFanTravel.com

For more information about visiting St. Petersburg, see my travel notes.

Quick guide to St. Petersburg, Russia


10 cases in St. Petersburg, Russia

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One of the things I found particularly interesting is that in the series, some of the highest ranking nobles of the court are black. In the 18th century. In the 20th century, that would have been completely unrealistic. However, I have noticed that this has happened in more recent historical productions, such as the feature film Mary Queen of Scotland (2018) or the series Princess of Spain (2019). So I think the choice of black actors and actresses is a sign of modern diversity and inclusion, and that’s definitely a good sign!

Some of the nobles of the Russian court in Veliky. Hulu

Moreover, I personally think Great has found a good angle to tell a real historical story freely and with great British humor.

Thanks in part to the excellent performances of the cast, The Great One was less dry than a normal period drama and the first season of ten episodes was generally very entertaining.

But while the series began with many highlights, I found the pace to be a bit slow in the middle section. After all, the first season ended with a pretty big cliffhanger.

We know from real history that the historical Catherine finally succeeded in overthrowing her husband and continuing to rule Russia as sole empress. But because the show took a lot of liberties and changed some of the real history, you never know what to expect from it. There may be other unexpected twists….

And given that the real Catherine lived with Pierre for 17 years before she brought him down, I think there’s room for more, at least for a second season of La Grande.

All in all, well done! Cheers!

**** 4 stars out of 5

Elle Fanning in Great. Hulu

Where should I look?

The Great Original was produced by the Hulu Ensemble. I saw it on the STARZ channel.

Are you planning a trip to Russia?

Check out my travelogues about a trip to St. Petersburg, the former home of Catherine and Peter:

Quick guide to St. Petersburg, Russia


10 cases in St. Petersburg, Russia

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