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Mary & George (TV Review)

3 min read

This review is based off the first three of seven episodes.

History buffs and fans of queer cinema are going to get a lot out of Mary & George. Based on Benjamin Wooleey's non-fiction book The King's Assassin, this miniseries charts the rise of the titular Mary and George Villiers who fuck, marry and kill their way to power in the king's court. This amazingly true slice of history is certainly entertaining, even if it all feels a little shallow.  

There's a confidence in tone right out of the gate; with bloody births, hangings, and a barrage of f-bombs in the prologue alone. With its lens barrel distortion, the anamorphic lens visually adds to the darkly comedic tone at the heart of this straight-faced historical drama. And it doesn't take long to set up the narrative either. Mary Villiers (Julianne Moore), a cunning mother of modest influence, grooms her troubled son George (Nicholas Galitzine) into seducing King James VI (Tony Curran) in a bid to raise the family name among the societal and political rankings.

The show has a breakneck pace, particularly in the first episode, but there isn't a need to slow things down when the narrative is easy to follow and the characterisation is superb. The characters aren't exactly saints; the Villiers family are cold, mean-spirited, and often cruel, but the same could be said for the entire cast. It's through some terrific performances that we root for Mary and George's accession. Moore imbues Mary with the confident intelligence she utilises to not just pull the strings on George, but on her allies and enemies too. Galitzine is perfectly cast as George; a depressed young man gaining confidence in himself as he learns courtly skills and explores his sexuality. To George, everything is of utmost seriousness and life-altering, but he soon leans into his natural charisma. 

Mary & George is a very queer show and doesn't shy away from graphic nudity and sex, which is not a complaint in the slightest. With creatives –  such as director, writer and producer Oliver Hermanus – working on the show, these scenes never feel exploitative and the queer themes (so far) feel genuine and authentic. It's nothing new, as there have been other period dramas with LGBTQ+ characters and themes, but it's always appreciative to see it done well. Here the sex scenes are sexy, thrilling, and at times hilarious and even traumatic. 

It's undeniably an entertaining show, especially as the political twists and turns build throughout the second episode and come to a satisfying head in the third, but there's only so much the actors can do to keep us engaged. There is an unmistakable emphasis on thrills through plot rather than character arcs. The show whizzes by narrative and character developments, with the in-story timeline going by months at a time in single scenes. To be fair, the story of George and the king's affair is a lengthy one, but at the end of the day there isn't much for audiences to grasp on here to truly get invested into the characters.    

Ultimately the creators of Mary & George understand the allure of an intriguing period drama full of political machinations. The Villiers' ambitious plots to get close to the King (literally) was an audacious story at the time, and still is today. There's a lot of plot and set-up to get through within these first few episodes, so hopefully the rest of the series will spend more time digging further into the psyches of these troubled and power-hungry nobles.

All seven episodes of Mary & George are available to stream on Sky Atlantic and NOW from March 5.