Billed as “an occasionally true story,” The Great is an anachronistic and darkly comic period drama coming to Channel 4, starring Elle Fanning as the future Catherine the Great.
While Catherine’s story is mainly based on real-life, there are plenty of characters in the show who were invented, or are otherwise an amalgamation of various real-life Russian figures from the time.
Read on for everything you need to know about the cast and characters in The Great.
Elle Fanning plays Catherine the Great
Who is Catherine the Great? The Great follows Catherine II — better known as Catherine the Great — from a teenage bride, and sees her embark on the journey that will eventually lead to her to becoming Russian Empress following a coup to overthrow her husband in 1762.
She oversaw Russia’s Golden Age and was Russia’s longest-reigning female monarch, reigning until her death in 1796.
Elle Fanning says of her character: “Catherine is an idealistic young woman who finds herself in a backwards world, married to a tyrant. She quickly realises she would be a better ruler and plots to takeover the throne. Catherine is romantic and naive at the start, but throughout the series her ruthlessness grows.”
Where have I seen Elle Fanning before? She’s perhaps best known for playing another (albeit fictional) royal: Princess Aurora in the Maleficent movies. She’s also starred in Super 8, The Beguiled, and The Neon Demon.
Nicholas Hoult as Peter, Emporer of Russia
Who is Peter, Emperor of Russia? The job title is in the name, but The Great depicts Russia’s real-life emperor as idiotic, adulterous, and mercurial, and whose only interest in his clever young bride is the children she will one day bear him (“Women are for seeding not reading!”).
Nicholas Hoult says of his character: “I play Peter, he’s a childlike emperor who runs the court like a big party, lacking empathy or a filter. He’s a real foodie.”
Where have I seen Nicholas Hoult before? A former child actor who starred in About A Boy, he later appeared in Skins (as Tony) before going on to star in the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road, Warm Bodies, The Favourite, and the latest X-Men films as Hank McCoy.
Phoebe Fox as Marial
Who is Marial? Catherine’s handmaiden and best friend, Marial is actually a fictional character invented for the series.
Phoebe Fox says: “I play Marial, a former lady of the court, now turned begrudging servant… She’s a foul-mouthed, casually violent, force of nature with a witty heart. I knew I’d have fun playing her.”
Where have I seen Phoebe Fox before? The stage and screen actress has starred in The Hollow Crown, Curfew, The Aeronauts, and The Woman in Black 2.
Sacha Dhawan as Count Orlo
Who is Count Orlo? Orlo is seemingly based on the real-life figure Count Grigory Orlov, a military man who became Catherine’ confidante and “favourite”. However, in the series Orlo is a scholar with a strictly platonic relationship with his monarch.
Sacha Dhawan says: “Orlo is Russia’s first geek of books. A mostly ignored advisor to Peter whose job it is to bring some intellectual and legal framework to discussions. Under all that neurotic anxiety beats the heart of a Lion. He becomes Catherine’s partner in crime.”
Where have I seen Sacha Dhawan before? He’s probably best known for playing the current The Master on Doctor Who. He also starred in After Part, The History Boys, and played Davos in Netflix’s Iron Fist.
Sebastian de Souza as Count Leo Voronsky
Who is Count Leo Voronsky? Catherine’s court lover, Leo is a fictional character; but it’s true that the future Empress had many lovers and court favourites during her long reign.
Where have I seen Sebastian de Souza before? He played the arrogant Gareth in Normal People, and starred in cult-favourite Skins, playing the bad boy and third-generation character Matty Levan.
Douglas Hodge as General Velementov
Who is General Velementov? An alcoholic general who is nonetheless one of Catherine’s most loyal advisors.
Where have I seen Douglas Hodge before? Hodge is perhaps best known for playing Richard Nixon in Watergate, and Alfred in Joker. He’s also starred in Penny Dreadful, Black Mirror, and Lost in Space.
Charity Wakefield as Georgina Dymov
Who is Georgina Dymov? Peter’s lover, and a fictional mash-up of various women the real-life Peter conducted affairs with.
Where have I seen Charity Wakefield before? She’s starred in the likes of Doctor Who, Selena, Genius, Wolf Hall (as Mary Boleyn) and Midsomer Murders.
Adam Godley as the Archbishop
Who is the Archbishop? Otherwise known as “Archie,” this comic figure has a father-daughter bond with Catherine’s servant, Marial.
Who is Adam Godley? You’ll recognise him from Breaking Bad (Elliott Schwartz), Suits (Nigel Nesbitt), and Lodge 49. He also voices and does motion capture for the role of Pogo in Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy.
The Great will air on Channel 4 from early 2021. The series is an original production for Hulu, where it is available to stream for US viewers across the pond.