Mary & George, Review

In the world of historical dramas, it’s surprising how few explore the intriguing realm of the world’s oldest profession – prostitution. From ancient Rome to the Oval Office, the exchange of money and power through sex has played a role throughout the centuries. In Britain, the early modern era, with its Tudor court intrigue and Stuart stewardship, stands out as a particularly fascinating period.

“Mary & George,” a new Sky drama, delves into this world, depicting how sex was used as a tool to wield power by both prostitutes and pimps. But does this show live up to its promising premise, or does it fall short? Let’s find out.

A Mother-Son Historical Drama

“Mary & George” follows the story of Mary Villiers, portrayed by the talented Julianne Moore, an ambitious widow facing financial ruin. Her eldest son, John, has learning difficulties, while her younger son, George, is an immature fop. To solve her financial woes, Mary remarries Sir Thomas Compton, played by Sean Gilder.

But her ambition doesn’t stop there. She sets her sights on a more prestigious target – the King himself, James VI and I of Scotland and England, portrayed by Tony Curran. Mary tasks her son George with the mission of seducing the King, competing with the King’s current favorite, the Earl of Somerset, played by Laurie Davidson.

A Romp Through the 17th Century Court

And so, the story unfolds in the vibrant backdrop of the 17th century court, where queerness becomes a double-edged sword. The show explores how young and ambitious men can influence the King through their same-sex relationships. However, this newfound power also becomes a point of vulnerability for Mary, who carries on a covert relationship with brothel owner Sandie, portrayed by Niamh Algar.

If this plot feels somewhat familiar, it’s because it shares similarities with the acclaimed 2018 film “The Favourite,” directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Both stories feature a young arrival at court who disrupts the established favorite to enter into a combustible same-sex relationship with the monarch. It seems that history truly does repeat itself.

A Familiar Narrative and Irreverent Tone

Not only does “Mary & George” share a similar narrative structure to “The Favourite,” but it also adopts a similarly irreverent and anachronistic tone. The dialogue is sharp and vulgar, invoking the squalor and tawdriness of the era with a modern twist.

The show doesn’t shy away from showing skin or exploring the intimate moments between characters. In the past, this approach would have been considered radical for a period drama, but now it feels somewhat tired. Shows like “The Great,” which also adopted a foul-mouthed and bawdy approach to historical storytelling, have already come and gone.

Confused Tone and Missed Opportunities

Although “Mary & George” boasts a brilliant cast and offers intriguing insights into the Jacobean court, it falls short in establishing its own comedic tone.

Created by DC Moore, known for blending historical perspectives with psychodrama, the show tries to strike a balance between drama and comedy but struggles to find its identity. Julianne Moore’s strength lies in her dramatic performances, and the series shines when it focuses on these moments. However, the overall tone becomes somewhat muddled, with a lot of sexual content and witty banter, but lacking the screwball comedy that could have elevated the show to new heights.

A Fascinating Glimpse into the Advent of Modernity

Despite its flaws, “Mary & George” does offer viewers an interesting depiction of life at the advent of modernity. The sexual politics and politicking of the characters add depth to the story, going beyond the surface-level exploration of life under Henry VIII.

The show’s portrayal of the Jacobean court and its stenographic portraits are more engaging than repetitive retellings of historical events. However, in its attempt to be modern and edgy, “Mary & George” forgets to take risks and establish its own unique identity. While it may be risqué in its content, it lacks the genuine riskiness that could have set it apart.


Q: Is “Mary & George” a worthy watch for fans of historical dramas?

A: “Mary & George” offers an intriguing premise and a talented cast, making it worth a watch for fans of historical dramas. However, it falls short in establishing its own comedic tone and misses opportunities to truly stand out.

Q: How does “Mary & George” compare to “The Favourite”?

A: “Mary & George” shares similarities with “The Favourite” in terms of its narrative structure and irreverent tone. However, it lacks the clear comedic direction that made “The Favourite” a standout film.

Q: Is “Mary & George” an accurate portrayal of the Jacobean court?

A: While “Mary & George” offers a glimpse into the Jacobean court, it takes certain creative liberties and blends historical perspectives with fiction. It provides an interesting portrayal of the era but should not be taken as a completely accurate historical account.