Mary & George Review | A Hot and Sassy Royal Smackdown

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Orgies, public executions, scheming lesbians, male companions lying with King James I. 17th-century royalty never looked so provocative. The thing is: it was. To some degree, at least, and Mary & George delights in illuminating these events for an addictive and glorious tell-all. The bold new historical psychodrama tracks — sometimes twists — the remarkable true story of a shrewd mother and son who plotted, prowled, and killed to conquer the court of England, and the bed of King James I.




That would be Mary Villiers (Julianne Moore), who molded her dashing son, George (Nicholas Galitzine of Red, White & Royal Blue), to seduce King James I (Tony Curran), and eventually become his all-powerful lover and confidant. Intrigued by the non-fiction book, The King’s Assassin: The Secret Plot to Murder King James, by Benjamin Woolley, series creator D.C. Moore (Killing Eve, Temple), uses creative license in his seven-episode limited series.

Fueled by powerful performances by Julianne Moore, Nicholas Galitzine, and Tony Curran, there’s plenty to appreciate. Fans of soapy historical dramas like Bridgerton will relish the outing. LGBTQ+ audiences may appreciate its queer sensibilities and the overall daring nature of the storytelling. Several creative pitfalls emerge, but overall, Mary & George is as riveting as it is sexy, sassy, and fun.



Steamy, Sexy, Fun With Some Depth

Mary & George

Mary & George

Release Date
April 5, 2024

Cast
Julianne Moore , Nicholas Galitzine , Tony Curran , Mark O’Halloran , Niamh Algar

Seasons
1

Writers
D. C. Moore

Pros

  • Delightfully playful and bawdy
  • Julianne Moore is wonderful as always
  • Incredible production design
Cons

  • Later episodes lose some steam

History tells us King James I was known to have many male companions. Queen Anne, played by Trine Dyrholm in this series, was apparently fine with it all. So was the king’s court. But there was something in George Villiers that the eccentric king found enchanting, known for his drunken follies and audacious sexcapades. D.C. Moore lays out the story effectively from the get-go and maintains a relatively sharp focus with tight storytelling. Ultimately, Mary & George is an adventure you want to embark on and stay with.


Having spent years at the mercy of an abusive husband, Mary Villiers pins the family’s hopes on her second son, George. The goal is to ascend and become the most powerful family in England. George — tall, dark, handsome, and ready to (ahem) rise to the occasion — agrees to the task but must overcome his own insecurities. He’s young, he’s poor, and making his way into the king’s court is hard work as there have been other male “favorites” before him. Chief among them is Earl Somerset (Laurie Davidson). A brief battle of the studs emerges in the first few episodes of the series as Earl pushes back on George’s advances into the king’s inner circle. The scenes play out in fine form, giving Nicholas Galitzine an opportunity to show off his acting range.

Julianne Moore and Nicholas Galitzine walk in a garden in Mary & George
Starz


Meanwhile, other characters emerge as this saucy 17th-century tale plays out. Sir Francis Bacon’s (Mark O’Halloran) political ambitions are marred by Somerset, but he sees an opportunity in Mary and George and soon finds himself leaning toward Team MG, consulting, plotting, and prodding. Then Mary finds an ally in Sandie (Niamh Algar), an outspoken and street-smart sex worker. Their alliance offers the character of Mary her own subplot filled with recklessness and sexual discovery. Meanwhile, Sir Edward Coke (Adrian Rawlins) becomes pivotal in the story. The conservative and religious man idolizes Elizabeth I’s reign and finds the Scottish king’s rowdiness more than off-putting. He never warms up to George, either.


Other characters, like Mary’s first son, John (Tom Victor), and Prince Charles (Samuel Blenkin), showcase how some family members become emotionally crippled under the psychic weight of their dysfunctional elders. John is prone to outbursts and isolation, while Charles stammers and can’t shake the void of his father’s absence. D.C. Moore does a nice job of making this not just about Mary and George, but also the era of the early 1600s, the political strife — particularly between England and Spain, the people, and the mystique of royalty.

Hail Mary

The first few episodes of the series pack a punch with their zippy storytelling, full-frontal male nudity, and Mary’s unrelenting desperation. It’s hard not to be swept away in the escapades. A steadier rhythm develops by Episode 3. Nary a “member” in sight after that, however, so the moments of pure shock value die down. Still, some of the love scenes themselves are crafted more artfully than one might initially imagine. Slick by way of Bridgerton 2.0.


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Julianne Moore, whose body of work speaks for itself — May December, Far From Heaven, The Glorias — powers through the production, presenting a real terrier of a character you love to hate, yet can’t help but root for. There’s wreckage along Mary’s path, of course, and at some point, her devious actions catch up with her, but even then, heaven shines down on her. Moore, who’s also on board as executive producer, is sublime all the way through, and it’s obvious she’s passionate about the project. Keep an eye out for an Emmy nom.


The up-and-coming Nicholas Galitzine is a suitable sparring partner for Mary. He brings enough humanity to George, at least early on, when the character questions the route he’s taking. Galitzine is a fine actor, impressive here, and further showing off his range, having come off Red, White & Royal Blue and Bottoms. He delivers a wide range of emotions and yet there were times when it was slightly challenging to believe him as such an expert manipulator, which George Villiers ultimately became.

Stellar Cast and Production Design


Meanwhile, Tony Curran should be happy come Emmy season. His vibrant portrayal of King James I is one for the books. D.C. Moore does a nice job, too, of revealing the genesis of the king’s maddening behavior — that emotional hole that never quite feels filled up. But James is a debaucherous mess of a character, prone to fits of rage and randy bedroom antics. “F*** the life back into me,” he cries at one point, and he means that literally. In the AA program, they often referred to the phrase, “King Baby,” either they’re a king or a baby, and Curran nails that depiction here, playing the character at diverse ends of the emotional spectrum.

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Bolstered by exceptional production design by Helen Scott (Living) and Jack Berk’s (The 355) art direction, the look and feel of the series is on the mark. The costume designer stands out, particularly during the high-court political scenes. Add to that D.C. Moore’s swift pen, and the outing tends to feel like a cousin to The Favourite, only with more of a gaggle of aroused shirtless men prancing around. Who knew the 17th century was this queer?

The latter episodes may paint themselves into a creative corner — just as Mary and George had in real life — deflating things a tad, but up until that point, the series is a wicked ride, and you’ll want to watch it play out until the end. Vibrant, lush, lusty, and often comedic, Mary & George is a delight. Catch Mary & George on Starz April 5. Watch the trailer below.

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