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Sharp, slick and ridiculously entertaining: Stan's new series The Great is here to shock and delight.

Stan’s new series The Great is exactly the kind of royal drama we yearn to see played out onscreen – a delicious concoction of wealth and power with a pinch of darkness bubbling just below the surface.

Billed as an “anti-historical ride through 18th Century Russia”, The Great tells a highly altered version of the life of Catherine the Great following her arranged marriage to Russian Emperor Peter III, weaving her real life into a fictional plot thick with biting comedy and juicy drama.

When we first meet 19-year-old Catherine (played by Elle Fanning, who also serves as executive producer), she is giddily swept up in the romance of her new life and impending wedding to Peter, setting off from France to Russia prepared to nurture her new husband and stoically serve her adopted country.

What’s waiting for her on the other end of the journey, however, is nothing at all like the fairy tale world and marriage she had been envisioning.

Take a look at the trailer for The Great, available only on Stan.

Emperor Peter (Nicholas Hoult) is childish, cruel and recklessly impulsive – he’s not in any way the kind of man you’d want running a country, and even less so, the kind of man you’d want as your husband.

Initially, he passes Catherine off as nothing more than a pretty ornament to sit beside him at dinner, or a body to carry his future heir.

It’s not until he realises the depth of her intelligence and fearlessness that he begins to see his new wife as a threat, rather than a toy.

Watching Peter rule in a terrorising way, forcing everyone in the palace to fall in line with his various games and whims, likens him in some ways to another great TV villain: King Joffrey. Yes, the cruel and sadistic young ruler from Game of Thrones who is still considered one of the most villainous characters to ever exist in pop culture.

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However, while he can often be cruel and calculating, especially when it comes to Catherine, Hoult’s Peter is no run-of-the-mill, one-dimensional villain.

Instead, he’s infused with just enough humanity and humour to make him compelling as well as loathsome. He’s grown up in a wild world of extreme privilege, which has resulted in his pastimes of choice being drinking, hunting and having sex – rather than worrying about running a country.

Elle Fanning as Catherine in Stan’s The Great. Source: Stan.

The perfect pairing of Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult is one of the secret weapons behind The Great, and what makes their onscreen pairing so particularly intriguing to watch is that in this instance, they are both playing so deliciously against their usual types onscreen.

The world fell in love with Fanning as the sweet Princess Aurora in the Maleficent franchise, while Hoult is widely known for his good-guy, heroic roles in the X-Men franchise and movies such as Jack the Giant Slayer.

In truth, there's little sweetness or heroism to be found in The Great, but what it does have is crackling and adversarial tension between Peter and Catherine.

Whether they are covertly trading gilded barbs across their dining room table or having a ferocious showdown before their court, Hoult and Fanning each deliver their lines with perfect comedic timing, making even some of the show's darkest moments surprisingly tinged with shocking humour.

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Nicholas Hoult as Peter and Elle Fanning as Catherine in Stan’s The Great. Source: Stan.

If you're watching The Great and love that, unlike other historical stories on our screen, the series is spun with modernity, and brought to life with rapid, whip-smart dialogue, you can thank Australian writer and executive producer Tony McNamara, who was Oscar-nominated for Best Original Screenplay for The Favourite, the movie that won Olivia Colman her Best Actress Award in 2019.

As Catherine begins to plot her way to the throne (sans Peter), we meet her securely enlisted allies within the court, including her lady-in-waiting Marial (Phoebe Fox) and forward-thinking bureaucrat Orlo (Sacha Dhawan).

Along with its humour and social commentary, one of the most refreshing aspects of The Great is the supporting cast, as the series has opted to do away with any rules around character ethnicity, allowing the series to have a racially diverse cast in a way that period dramas rarely do.

Just one of the many ways The Great is here to shock and delight.

The Great is now streaming, only on Stan.

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