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TELEVISION: "The Great" not your typical period bidrama

If you’re put off by stuffy biodramas of kings and queens, don’t fear the period series “The Great.” Rest assured: so is the show’s creator.

“I hate period things. Everything I wrote was contemporary,” says Tony McNamara, the Australian TV veteran and Oscar-nominated screenwriter of “The Favourite.” So, of course, his new Hulu show is set in 1740s Russia and is about Catherine (you know, … the Great). “I read about her and thought, ‘I really want to write about her. … What would it take for me to like it?'”

“The Great” is a splash of cold water to the face of the “Masterpiece Theater” crowd and straight-no-chaser to “The Lion in Winter” fans, who like their royals sniping and snarling, but impeccably written all the same. It’s shockingly direct, even abrupt, but all in service of a compelling narrative with a whole country at stake. Just don’t take it as, shall we say, biographically precise.

“If you’re slavish to the facts, it can really hurt the drama. I was more, ‘What’s the essence of her? What’s the reason I want to tell the story? She did this, she did this, she did this’ ?— and the rest is up for grabs,” says the writer from his backyard via video conference.

He was joined on the call by stars Elle Fanning (from her kitchen) and Nicholas Hoult. Hoult’s virtual background is a painting in spitting distance of the period, featuring a self-satisfied man holding a melon, suggestively split open. It makes Fanning laugh out loud because it’s so on-brand for Hoult’s Peter III ?— at least according to the show.

“Changing the character of the man she married from what he was, was to make a better antagonist,” McNamara says. “It was making a modern show; it’s not a history lesson. We use history

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