Editor-in-Chief Alex Taylor reviews historical drama Mary & George, revelling in its immersive, dark and compelling depiction of the Jacobean era

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The creativity, performances, aesthetic, and triumphant fun of Mary & George will reaffirm your faith in quality television, while it undermines your belief in humanity. Based on Benjamin Woolley’s nonfiction work, The King’s Assassin (2017), this adaptation by DC Moore (of Killing Eve and Temple success), immerses you in the grounded, shadowy, yet deeply dynamic world of Jacobean society, with the most unstoppable mother/son duo since Andy and Judy Murray.

Unique for its depiction of the era, Mary & George does not employ performatively gruesome stunts, nor does it counteractively attempt to lay a cloak over every muddy puddle using fantastical spectacle. This mother and son story of social climbing, prune poisonings, clandestine love-affairs and royal favourites is rich, unpretentious, engaging, and vibrant. 

She firstly manipulates her second son George (Nicholas Galitzine) into going to France to get frenched by some Frenchies, and learn how to french like them

Mary & George is a story of the exploitation masterminded by the resourceful and inventive Mary Villiers (Julianne Moore) – a low born woman with high aspirations for her family’s future. She firstly manipulates her second son George (Nicholas Galitzine) into going to France to get frenched by some Frenchies, and learn how to french like them. Consequently, this requires money, therefore, two weeks after her abusive husband’s staircase death, she marries Sir Thomas Compton (Sean Gilder). The success of this, in turn, facilitates her son’s ascension and subsequent exploitation of James VI/I (Tony Curran). 

The series’ overall performances are incredibly compelling and deeply charming. Julianne Moore shines as one of few American actors who can not only pull off a believable British accent, but a distinctly English sensibility. The character’s calculated, disconnected but incredibly charismatic persona emanates through her occasional lead-paint laden pores. She inhabits the strength required to not only dote on her odd eldest son, John (Tom Victor), but puppet her second child George. George Villiers, portrayed by Nicholas Galitzine, demonstrates the character’s sly manipulation and incessant devotion; simultaneously inhabiting both intimidation and innocence with a single look. 

Curran, suitably for his character, commands every scene that he is in

Irrespective of the eponymous characters’ captivating actors, the portrayal of James VI/I ultimately wins favour, and rightly so. The enigmatic performance of Tony Curran ensures that the character is not only deemed a prize by his court, but by the viewers also. James VI/I is an rarely depicted monarch, and a character whose presence is felt long before his arrival. He portrays the role with a warmth, intelligence, vulnerability, and non-sensationalised queerness. Curran, suitably for his character, commands every scene that he is in, with the constant aid of his co-star: a scene-stealing, flowing, strawberry-blonde wig.

A powder keg of dramatized history is stuffed into the series,

In Mary & George the considered direction and art design ensures that every shot evokes a renaissance era painting. The use of light and shadow, supported by a nutritious colour palette, only consolidate it further as a joy to watch. Its settings are realistic, often modest, and atmospheric. With grand manor houses, ancient forests, wood-panelled chambers, crooked corridors and back-alley brothels, Mary & George bends towards the characterful truth of Jacobean England, rather than an unnecessarily exaggerated lie. 

Mary & George is able to explore so much, with comparatively few episodes. A powder keg of dramatized history is stuffed into the series, from the competitive love affair between the King’s favourites, the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh, and Francis Bacon’s replacement nose. With this creative team, it would be a delight to view squirrelly Prince Charles (Samuel Blenkin) in an impossible sequel set in the consequent English Civil War. 

The histrionic ascension of the Duke of Buckingham and his family, through his mother’s fabulous orchestration, continually begs the question: how far will their lust for power take them?

Rating: 5/5 


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