News

The Great Season 2 Stars Talk Women in Power — Huzzah!

Stars Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult return to their roles as Catherine the Great and not-so-great Peter III for season 2. Series newcomer Gillian Anderson tells Rotten Tomatoes about playing Catherine's snobbish mother.

by | November 18, 2021 | Comments

If the first season of Hulu’s biographical comedy The Great was about one woman realizing her power and how she can use it to take control of a country, the second season is about how all women can find ways to rebel against the patriarchy.

The series stars Elle Fanning as the legendary (not horse-loving) Russian empress Catherine the Great and Nicholas Hoult as her conceited and dimwitted husband Peter III (who is very much not Peter the Great).

In the vein of Bridgerton and Dickinson, the show uses modern takes, and some creative license, to tell the story of how a naïve German girl who came to the country through an arranged marriage brought about radical change for women, religious views, and the arts. The second season concentrates on how a pregnant Catherine manages things after her political coup that banished her husband, but lost her lover (Sebastian de Souza’s Leo).

“The season has a very parental theme running through it,” Fanning told reporters during the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour. “Having Catherine kind of grappling with the fact that she is going to become a mother soon … and then also having to become a mother to the country — so the baby bump really symbolized a lot of things.”

As Catherine makes gains, and a lot of mistakes, other women and girls notice and take action.


The Great

(Photo by Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

“The season is about how hard it is to be in power, and how hard it is to be in power when you’re a woman particularly, because fundamentally, people think that you are a second-class citizen,” Phoebe Fox — who plays Catherine’s former lady’s maid and now newly restored lady of the court, Marial — told Rotten Tomatoes. “For Marial, choosing not to get married — choosing to have this autonomy — it makes you a bit of a pariah in Russia. But that is still true today; to not get married is still seen as a bit abnormal for women.”

The challenges for women at the time can be seen in even the slightest turn of language. Last season, for instance, rape is casually mentioned as a fact of everyday life. Sometimes it’s even talked about as a joke.

“That’s actually what the show does: It takes really dark subjects and puts it into funny dialogue,” Fox said. “I quite enjoyed it because it’s shocking actually. We’ve become so used to conversations about prevalent rape is and how it’s not prosecuted enough … people need waking up that it’s still a problem. And if a way to wake them up is to shock them with a line that is so blasé about it, then I think that can be a good thing.”

The humor is built into the script, Fanning told journalists in August.

“You can read the script and … it’s laugh-out-loud funny when you’re reading the words, but then … having a season 2, you get to know their character so deep and each person understands who they are on a deeper level now, as well. And so everyone’s kind of taking a little bit more risks.”


The Great

(Photo by Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

The female characters on the show certainly aren’t all saints; for one, the second season also introduces Catherine’s mother, Johanna, played by Gillian Anderson. A cunning and meddling woman whose life goal is to get all of her daughters wedded to royalty, she is none too thrilled that Catherine has not played her part as the dutiful wife.

“There is very lawyerly elements to Johanna,” Anderson told Rotten Tomatoes ahead of the season premiere. “I don’t think that I realized until we were actually in the midst of filming the degree to which she is contradictory. I was focusing more beforehand on the scenes and the trajectory and the fun dialog. It wasn’t until we were smack in the middle of it that I realized the degree to which she was as manipulative and conniving.”

Johanna, who dresses in vibrant prints and has a makeup palette that is much more noticeable than the more angelic hues her daughter prefers, makes her presence known at court. She judges other women for their appearances and lack of understanding of how to emulate chic French fashion, and she lays passive-aggressive guilt upon Catherine for screwing up a potential matchmaking for her sister with her progressive ways. Her conversations with men can be castrating or suggestive, particularly when it comes to Peter.

In short, she’s a two-faced snob.

“She lays out, quite frankly, from the get go, what her feelings are about all this nonsense that her daughter’s getting herself, wrapped up in,” Anderson said. “The more that Catherine becomes focused on all the good that she’s going to do for women’s rights, et cetera within Russia, the more her mom voices the fact that she thinks she’s just talking nonsense. You get a pretty clear sense of what her intentions are … she just wants her to focus on being wife and having children.”


The Great stars Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult

(Photo by Hulu)

But these changes and liberated ideas don’t just impact the women in Catherine’s court – they also affect the men.

“Peter, in season 2 in terms of him trying to better himself and deal with his time in confinement and imprisonment he, decides that he wants to learn new skills,” Hoult told the TCA audience in August. “One of those skills that he turns to is French … Luckily, I’m very bad at French, so that’s something that I didn’t have to rehearse or practice too much character-wise; it was just natural to me to have a bad French accent. Sorry to France.”

As Peter spends much of the season in denial of what it means to be overthrown and locked in his chambers, his friends Grigor (Gwilym Lee) and Arkady (Bayo Gbadamosi) also see trouble in their marriages while Adam Godley’s Archbishop, the Patriarch of Peter’s court, has to contend with a having a woman in power who doesn’t share his religious beliefs.

“This is a world that’s very stuck in its ways … there’s a character called the Patriarch for goodness sakes,” Lee said with a laugh. “But it’s the women that are able to come and reimagine things. And I find that really exciting and refreshing.”


The Great

(Photo by Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

And not all men are unhappy simply because they can’t go hunting and gallivanting with their royal friend. Sacha Dhawan’s Count Orlo and Douglas Hodge’s General Velementov worked with Catharine to overthrow Peter. But what does that mean for them now? Velementov is bloodthirsty and wants war, while Catherine seeks peace as much as possible. And Orlo is not the kind of noble who enjoys sex and debauchery.

Dhawan said that this season, Orlo will experiment with his sexuality “but then his conclusion is he’d rather be reading a book.” He also find that he’s under pressure from his family thanks to visits from his (brilliantly named) uncle, Vanya.

“I think that is quite relevant today, in terms of men feeling that they have to be Alpha males or behave in a certain way,” Dhawan said.

But, there is one thing that every character (and the actor playing them) seems to be fond of this season: the cursing. The F word is still a favorite among this interpretation of the Russian aristocracy.

“I mean, it’s good for the soul to be able to scream f— at the top of your lungs,” Lee said.

The Great season 2 premieres on Friday, November 19 on Hulu.


On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

Lucasfilm Vudu Best Actress dark documentary best IFC Films biography Grammys new zealand 93rd Oscars young adult game of thrones 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Television Academy heist movie documentaries MTV Mary Poppins Returns TLC talk show godzilla Marvel Pop TV Starz Disney streaming service Cosplay 2016 canceled Binge Guide San Diego Comic-Con Character Guide The CW Esquire ratings Comic-Con@Home 2021 cops spider-verse spinoff The Walking Dead doctor who Elton John Neflix new star wars movies Disney MSNBC crossover genre 71st Emmy Awards First Reviews Spectrum Originals Universal free movies toronto Film Festival ABC Signature Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt debate indiana jones TV TCA 2017 dreamworks Superheroe Christmas Baby Yoda worst movies new york Bravo Apple TV+ Fargo Amazon Prime based on movie Toys Ellie Kemper cinemax Watching Series comic Star Trek travel 72 Emmy Awards IFC name the review Awards Tour Tokyo Olympics Instagram Live casting Epix Tumblr jurassic park classics Alien werewolf Film richard e. Grant revenge king kong SundanceTV hollywood marvel cinematic universe facebook Television Critics Association Video Games space GoT Crunchyroll FOX blaxploitation X-Men DGA Prime Video Endgame anthology BET Awards Stephen King Pet Sematary Marvel Studios Fall TV aapi Shondaland nature serial killer Emmy Nominations Hallmark cats international CBS HFPA Emmys directors Acorn TV black comedy crime thriller strong female leads The Purge cartoon Lionsgate GLAAD New York Comic Con jamie lee curtis Marvel Television stand-up comedy harry potter live action comic book movie dceu period drama Action DC Comics biopic ViacomCBS Pirates SXSW 2022 Song of Ice and Fire Winners Holiday Adult Swim canceled TV shows mockumentary 007 concert NYCC Star Wars History See It Skip It slashers Oscars kaiju Sundance Black History Month 99% Interview Polls and Games women basketball christmas movies IMDb TV action-comedy 45 parents Tags: Comedy Pixar Peacock what to watch screen actors guild DC streaming service suspense true crime obi wan cults Superheroes sequels Arrowverse crime FX supernatural HBO Go vs. science fiction cooking Fantasy CNN tv talk Paramount Plus Opinion Britbox TV Land scary movies streaming movies Pacific Islander Nominations foreign President batman high school screenings Exclusive Video Image Comics olympics cars cancelled stoner green book NBC TNT The Academy Comedy mission: impossible VH1 Turner Classic Movies kids spanish Musicals Marathons festivals Kids & Family animated asian-american BET hidden camera Chernobyl Lifetime Christmas movies deadpool theme song legend Western docudrama scene in color dexter stop motion hist Avengers Mudbound OneApp rt labs critics edition blockbuster satire Sundance Now YouTube Red mutant king arthur VICE 24 frames Country sitcom Women's History Month Food Network cancelled TV shows reboot Rocketman Captain marvel live event composers universal monsters Thanksgiving archives nfl latino The Arrangement prank Columbia Pictures telelvision Hulu fresh historical drama rt labs chucky art house slasher children's TV psychological thriller italian Hear Us Out MGM Certified Fresh OWN ESPN black Discovery Channel japan zero dark thirty Walt Disney Pictures LGBTQ Cartoon Network spanish language Travel Channel 20th Century Fox National Geographic medical drama romantic comedy adventure Quiz Musical rotten dc Spike Amazon Prime Video TV One Mary Tyler Moore popular teaser YouTube Premium South by Southwest Film Festival 90s politics Turner superman Nat Geo thriller golden globes Brie Larson Fox Searchlight The Walt Disney Company CW Seed Animation BBC HBO Max MCU festival laika royal family Year in Review Calendar Masterpiece Countdown hispanic heritage month trophy comic books book Comic Book Martial Arts 2018 Wes Anderson BBC America Horror Netflix Christmas movies TV renewals 1990s kong Ovation TV movies franchise American Society of Cinematographers emmy awards dramedy Anna Paquin know your critic Reality Competition halloween mob Ghostbusters diversity rom-coms Comics on TV spain Reality dogs Black Mirror breaking bad RT21 comic book movies films venice Best and Worst elevated horror Hollywood Foreign Press Association Sundance TV australia PlayStation comedies Super Bowl Broadway Tarantino toy story Mary poppins trailers transformers 2020 dragons Syfy book adaptation 2019 First Look Best Actor wonder woman Lifetime posters political drama Warner Bros. Election marvel comics Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Set visit Best Director remakes Funimation singing competition SXSW rotten movies we love target indie ABC crime drama Netflix TruTV blockbusters video on demand Trivia ITV social media TCA Winter 2020 WGN Apple E3 Comedy Central TCM comics romance cancelled TV series 94th Oscars Disney Plus Premiere Dates halloween tv aliens critic resources razzies Mystery Tomatazos obituary series Schedule FXX Best Picture WarnerMedia streamig robots sag awards sports Creative Arts Emmys CBS All Access A&E ABC Family Cannes worst cancelled television renewed TV shows comiccon independent Music Box Office A24 saw Sony Pictures Valentine's Day Photos zombie die hard scorecard Writers Guild of America Extras quibi Podcast Apple TV Plus USA technology miniseries disaster BBC One 21st Century Fox Amazon Studios HBO Disney Channel sequel YA monster movies binge Crackle BAFTA Heroines Awards TBS Infographic gangster japanese Logo SDCC ID james bond movie scary Pop 4/20 child's play docuseries news Rock unscripted pirates of the caribbean YouTube adaptation sopranos finale TIFF 79th Golden Globes Awards television critics anime Winter TV Trailer leaderboard south america 2021 Holidays Pride Month Mindy Kaling Sneak Peek video Sci-Fi Trophy Talk Oscar AMC police drama PBS RT History E! CMT french discovery 2017 GIFs witnail justice league Red Carpet Rom-Com Summer Dark Horse Comics 73rd Emmy Awards Legendary NBA boxing Biopics Nickelodeon psycho rt archives superhero Rocky VOD twilight versus TCA Awards Family The Witch fast and furious El Rey Fox News APB zombies Academy Awards game show Classic Film spy thriller movies Paramount joker DirecTV PaleyFest natural history ghosts war reviews Universal Pictures mcc streaming adenture football feel good a nightmare on elm street boxoffice Amazon Drama Freeform LGBT Paramount Network award winner spider-man Disney+ Disney Plus lord of the rings vampires nbcuniversal USA Network AMC Plus 2015 Teen Hallmark Christmas movies DC Universe FX on Hulu all-time hispanic TCA Spring TV golden globe awards criterion Tubi Showtime Shudder