Mary & George: Sex, death and ruthless ambition in Julianne Moore’s lush royal drama

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Mary & George is streaming on Binge.
Mary & George is streaming on Binge. Credit: Binge/Sky TV

When The Crown approached its sixth and final season, its research team set out to debunk the common wisdom that Kate Middleton had contrived to meet Prince William at the University of St Andrews.

The series’ head of research Annie Sulzberger told Vanity Fair the production tried really hard to find other reasons why she would’ve uncharacteristically changed the course of her life by taking a gap year she never intended to take and applying to a school that wasn’t as suited to her as Edinburgh, the one she had already been accepted to.

They couldn’t find any. “It was a little disheartening, actually, to come to the conclusion that a lot of media had come to, which, in this case, we felt was accurate,” Sulzberger had said. So, when the episodes rolled out, The Crown’s fictionalised version of Kate appeared to have chased William.

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More significantly, Kate was spurred on by her mother Carole Middleton, who coached her daughter on how to land a prince. The British media and some sections of the aristocracy have long characterised the Middletons as having “wormed” their way into the royal family — a classist and sometimes sexist critique rooted in the antiquated mores of England’s social hierarchy.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth to it. And the Middletons wouldn’t be the first — and unlikely to be the last — family who schemed their way to the centre of dynastic power.

Mary & George is streaming on Binge.
Mary & George is streaming on Binge. Credit: Binge/Sky TV

Mary & George is a new historical drama set in the court of King James I, the Scottish monarch who in 1603 inherited the English throne after the death of Elizabeth I.

Starring Julianne Moore and Nicholas Galitzine (Red, White and Royal Blue), the British series charts the ambitions and manipulations of Mary Villiers and her second-born son George, described in historical accounts as “the handsomest-bodied man in all of England”.

Mary (Moore) was born into modest, non-aristocratic circumstances and eventually became the Countess of Buckingham, and established a generations-long line of influence. She married more than once, each time a more favourable pairing that elevated her status or wealth.

She saw the path to power and that was for George (Galitzine) to gain the favour of James (Tony Curran) who was already known for having “favourites” that were male lovers. While still contentious, it is generally accepted that James I had same-sex affairs, including his decade-long liaison with George Villiers.

More than just ensuring George was a witty conversationalist, gifted musician or had been trained in courtly manners by the French, Mary had to navigate a vipers’ nest of personalities who were all jockeying for position. This included outfoxing the King’s existing lover, the Earl of Somerset (Laurie Davidson), and his canny wife.

Mary & George is streaming on Binge.
Mary & George is streaming on Binge. Credit: Binge/Sky TV

Mary & George, adapted for TV by D.C. Moore from Benjamin Woolley’s non-fiction book The King’s Assassin, is a sumptuous and engrossing series. It moves a little slow (seven episodes was perhaps too many) and you always want more of Moore, but the more interesting nugget in the show is not the scandal, murders and sex scenes.

The series explores how power is wielded and how it’s gained. Mary exploited what she had on hand (a pliable, charming son and a horny king) to claw for the inherited riches others lucked into.

Seventy years earlier, Anne Boleyn’s family played a deadly game of chess to propel their daughter into King Henry VIII’s bedchambers and centuries later, Carole Middleton likely had a hand in Kate’s decision to switch universities. Through time and across worlds, there are countless more stories.

At the heart of it is how we perceive monarchies and dynasties — royal, political and economic. Those born into them are naturally assumed to be entitled to it and anyone who strives for it is condemned for their desire for upward mobility.

As long as there are systems in place which reinforce inherited power, then there will always be those knocking at the door. Can you really blame them?


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