Mother Russia! Period romp The Great returns to Channel 4 with scenes filmed on location in Hatfield
- Credit: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu
Huzzah! Channel 4 TV viewers will be transported to 18th century Russia again when the second series of The Great returns.
Season two of the Emmy-nominated drama premieres in the UK on TV on Wednesday, July 27 at 10pm.
The first episode of the irreverent period romp, Heads It's Me, features scenes filmed on location in Hatfield Park in Hertfordshire back in November 2020.
First aired on American subscription streaming site Hulu, and then StarzPlay via Prime Video in the UK, The Great stars Hollywood actress Elle Fanning, who also executive produces, as Catherine and X-Men favourite Nicholas Hoult as her husband, Emperor Peter.
Both leads have been nominated for Emmys in their respective 'outstanding lead' categories in a comedy series.
While far from being historically accurate, rude black comedy The Great charts the rise of Catherine the Great in Russia.
The Golden Globes nominated show is created by showrunner Tony McNamara, who also co-wrote The Favourite.
That Oscar-winning movie starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and The Great's Nicholas Hoult was mostly filmed on location at Hatfield House and around Lord Salisbury's Hertfordshire estate.
What fans of The Great probably don't know is that the series one pilot episode of the "occasionally true story" was also largely filmed at Hatfield House.
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The Marble Hall and the Long Gallery both feature in the opening episode, The Great, while Hatfield's West Gardens also appear with Elle Fanning, as Catherine, lying down near the fountain.
Once green-lit by Hulu for a full 10-part run, fabulous palace sets were built at 3 Mills Studios in London, with one looking very similar to Hatfield House's Long Gallery with its gold leaf ceiling.
Filming of the "anti-historical" series still took place on location around the country and also in Italy at the Royal Palace of Caserta.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant season two filming was more restricted, but The Great producers still visited Hatfield House for location filming on a couple of occasions.
Hever Castle in Kent and Hampton Court Palace were among the other filming locations of The Great's second season.
Film crews were spotted in Hatfield Park during November 2020. Scenes shot on location in the park during this time feature in the opening episode of season two.
The house and gardens were also used for the second series.
The cast of The Great returned to a then snowy Hatfield House in February 2021, with a number of scenes this time shot on the South Front of the Jacobean mansion.
The house features in episode 3, 'Alone At Last', which can be seen on Channel 4 on Wednesday, August 10.
Writer Tony McNamara says in a Hulu featurette video: "In season one Catherine's determined to take power and I guess season two is really about the world from season one being flipped on its head."
Season two of The Great picks up with a pregnant Catherine gaining the upper hand in her war against her husband.
However, she quickly learns that dethroning her husband Peter (Nicholas Hoult) was just the beginning, and she must now face the realities of "liberating" a country that doesn't want to be free.
Elle Fanning said: "I think a big theme of the show this year is that she's becoming a mother herself and also becoming a mother to Russia.
"She knows that while she's pregnant, she's safe."
"You actually see her in different phases of pregnancy with her growing stomach," says Elle. "Also, you know, the pains of pregnancy, all while she's trying to lead a country."
Catherine's fight to bring enlightenment to Russia also means battling her own court and those closest to her, including her mother Joanna, played by guest star Gillian Anderson.
The X-Files, The Crown and Sex Education star Gillian Anderson appears in two episodes of the second series, episode 7 'Stapler' and the following episode 8.
Catherine also battles her own heart in the 10-part series as she continues to navigate her relationship with Peter.
The fact that he is deeply in love with Catherine and their unborn child, named Paul, does little to dissuade her from taking his throne.
Elle said: "We pick up four months after season one left off. A lot of season two is her living out the realities of a coup and what that really means.
"She's not perfect. That's what I loved so much about her and Tony's writing."
Tony McNamara said: "When I wrote the play originally, the historical detail didn't interest me so much as the idea of this young woman coming into a country she didn't know and taking power.
"The themes of why you would put yourself at risk to do such a thing."
Talking about Catherine in the new series, Elle Fanning added: "I think a big theme of the show this year is that she's becoming a mother herself."
The cast also includes Douglas Hodge as Velementov, and Midsomer Murders star Gwilym Lee as Grigor Dymov, Peter's best friend. Gwilym Lee also played Brian May in Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.
Hodge, who played Alfred Pennyworth in movie Joker, said: "I think the writing's just sublime and not only very, very sort of crazy and funny but also very touching in places."
Sacha Dhawan, who plays Orlo, added: "We've got a great ensemble of actors who bring so much to the table."
Executive producer Nicholas Hoult, who plays the idiotic Peter, said: "You get to see the characters that you enjoyed in the first season developing in really fun ways."
Showrunner Tony McNamara added: "I always try and just be truthful to the characters.
"There aren't really jokes in the show, they're really just who people are and how they behave and how respond to each other."
Filming has started on season three of The Great, with the crew having already visited Hatfield House.
The new second series of The Great starts on Channel 4 on Wednesday, July 27 at 10pm. It can then be seen on C4 on Wednesdays at 10pm.