The Great's Marial is a 'foul-mouthed force of nature'

Catherine the Great sitting by a tree with her servant

Marial (Phoebe Fox) and Catherine (Elle Fanning) in The Great - Credit: 2020 ViacomCBS All Rights Reserved.

UK viewers can see comedy period drama The Great on Channel 4 and All4 from Sunday, January 3. 

Starring Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult, the 10-part series is loosely based on Catherine the Great's rise to power in 18th century Russia.

Scenes of The Great were filmed on location at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire.

Playing the scheming Marial in The Great is Phoebe Fox, who has appeared in movies Eye in the Sky alongside Helen Mirren and The Aeronauts starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.

She said: "The show is an irreverent take on the life of Catherine the Great. A costume drama with funny bones. 

"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."

Catherine the Great and her servant watch a building go up in flames

Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great and Phoebe Fox as servant Marial in The Great - Credit: Nick Wall / Hulu / 2020 ViacomCBS All Rights Reserved.

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In 1761, Catherine (Elle Fanning) travels to Russia and becomes the Empress by marrying the Emperor of Russia, Peter (Nicholas Hoult).

Her hopes of marrying a great love are dashed as Catherine learns that Peter is a selfish, spoiled brat who stands against everything she values.

She is introduced to palace life by her servant, Marial, who was once a lady of the court herself but was reduced to serfdom when her family was stripped of its status.

Catherine is feeling hopeless and verging on suicide when Marial presents her with an alternative path – to overthrow Peter.

 Phoebe Fox as Marial in The Great

Phoebe Fox as Marial in The Great - Credit: Jason Bell

The script from The Favourite co-writer and series creator Tony McNamara plays fast and loose with history.

"I’m a bit of a nerd, so I would normally have started the process of creating Marial with a deep dive into the history of the period," said Phoebe.

"But from the first day of rehearsal it become quite clear that it would have been a slightly pointless task. Instead I worked on the character through her physicality. From the way she holds her head, to how she walks."

Phoebe added: "The script demands an enormous amount of speed. Especially when you’re (trying to) deliver the funny lines, you need to be able to whip through it – something that’s incredibly hard when a corset is stopping you from taking a full breath."

cha Dhawan as Count Orio and Phoebe Fox as Marial in The Great

Sacha Dhawan as Count Orio and Phoebe Fox as Marial in The Great, which can be seen on Channel 4 from January 3. - Credit: Jason Bell

As for the terrific period costumes, she said: "I had a moment of jealousy seeing the other ladies dressed up to the nines, whilst I had to make do with my head wrap.

"But I channelled all that into the character, and actually in the end I think I dodged a bullet – my costume was much comfier, and with 12-hour working days, comfort is the Holy Grail!"

Catherine the Great watches a building in flames

Catherine the Great, played by Elle Fanning, watches as her plans go up in flames in The Great - Credit: 2020 ViacomCBS All Rights Reserved.

As well as Phoebe Fox, The Great also stars Adam Godley, Gwilym Lee, Charity Wakefield, Douglas Hodge, Sacha Dhawan, Sebastian de Souza, Bayo Gbadamosi and Belinda Bromilow.

  • The Great is a 10-part comedy drama that airs at 9pm on Sunday, January 3 on Channel 4. It is also available on-demand on streaming channel All4.
Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great in pink dress

Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great - Credit: Jason Bell

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