Tuesday, March 05, 2024


MARY & GEORGE is a sumptuously produced costume drama set in the court of King James I of England. Despite being known to most English schoolchildren as the sponsor of a new translation of the Bible, historical sources tell us that he was definitely homosocial and most likely bi- or homosexual.  In this retelling from D.C.Moore, based on a work of history by Benjamin Woolley, any ambiguity is eradicated. James was most definitely homosexual - able to sire children with his Danish Queen - but taking pleasure in a series of young beautiful men.

This gives our heroine Mary Beaumont her chance at societal advancement, wealth and power. Born a serving woman, by the time we meet her she has already successfully faked an aristocratic lineage and buried her first husband. She marries a country booby in order to maintain her children, and grooms her son George to seduce the King. That they both achieve great power and set up her descendants as those the Dukes of Buckingham is a testament to Mary's intelligence, ruthlessness and strategic brilliance. 

Iconic actress Julianne Moore (MAY DECEMBER) perfectly embodies this complex and ambiguous woman. She is no feminist - happily sacrificing a rich heiress to her mentally ill and violent younger son. But one cannot help but admire her resilience and resourcefulness in a world where she had no lineage and few legal rights. It is testament to Nicholas Galitzine (RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE) that he matches her beat for beat. When we first meet his George he is young, fragile and drifting. By the end he is out-strategising both his mother and the King. He remains compelling throughout. In smaller roles, I admired Tony Curran's ability to make James so much more complex and indeed admirable than just a "cockstruck" dilettante. I also very much liked Sean Gilder as Mary's new husband, and Nicola Walker gets all the best lines as the scabrous, independently wealthy Lady Harron.

The production design, costumes, music, and locations are all beautifully done. The show is a joy to watch, and as far as I can tell, the broad historical outlines are close to the real history. My only real criticism of the show is that it cannot maintain the brilliantly funny brutal comedy of its opening episodes and that once the Villiers get closer to power, a dark pall falls over the show.  I felt that somewhere around episode 5 the drama lost its intensity and zest and we drifted toward the inevitable grim ending.  I wanted more of the bawdy language and nakedly open powerplays - notably between Mary and Lady Harron.  The show suffered for the latter's loss.

MARY & GEORGE is available to watch in its entirety in the UK on Sky. It releases next month in the USA on Starz.

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