‘Mary & George’ Reveals Being Good at Gay Sex Doesn’t Mean You Can Lead a Country

This article contains very mild spoilers for upcoming episodes of Mary & George — only what’s in the trailer.


Pretty boy George Villers insults his mother Mary’s lady-in-waiting — Sandie is a sex worker who Mary fell in love with, elevating her standing in 17th century society. Sandie scoffs at his hypocrisy. She may have worked in a brothel, but it’s George who has used his beauty and his sexual prowess to earn the trust of King James. While he might claim it’s love, we witnessed the scheming. Any affection is secondary to his plans to use sex to gain power. And they weren’t even his plans — they were his mother’s.

Starz’ new limited series Mary & George, based on the true story of Mary and George Villers’ ascent to nobility, is a costume drama of the most delicious variety. It doesn’t use contemporary pop music or other obvious anachronisms to appeal to a modern audience; instead it simply revels in the excess of those in power. Nearly everyone on-screen is a bisexual sex fiend. Nearly everyone on-screen would kill blood, boo, or bestie to rise in society.

Across its seven episodes, Julianne Moore as Mary and Nicholas Galitzine as George lead an impressive cast in a semi-historical romp of sex and violence. (As Sandie, Niamh Algar — who you may recognize from The Bisexual and Pure — is another standout.) The show benefits from leaning into its salacious tale, trusting its actors and craft to add depth. It doesn’t get bogged down in the details of history. All we really need to know is who is fucking who and who is killing who.

But despite its seemingly modest ambitions, Mary & George reveals itself to be more astute than other entries in the genre desperate for complexity. No viewer could look at horny King James or himbo George and read intelligence, but even the sharp and scheming Mary is only skilled when it comes to playing the game of thrones. Once Mary, George, or any of their rivals for power succeed at gaining the king’s ear, it becomes apparent they don’t know what to do with it. They wanted power for power’s sake, to gain money and status. Whenever any of these individuals succeed, they have the blank expressions of someone desperate to be a movie star only to be appalled when told to learn lines.

George is especially foolish in ways that are likely to frustrate some viewers. But I found his errors to be the source of the show’s funniest and wisest moments. After all, being good at gay sex does not mean you have the skillset to advise the leader of a nation.

The 17th century debauchery wouldn’t be allowed in our contemporary society — yes, even in our Trump-normative era — but this observation about power has never been more relevant. Especially in the U.S. where politicians are tasked with fundraising throughout the entirety of their time in office, holding a political position is the primary job of our leaders. The actual leading is secondary — and, often, hindered by the whims of their donors.

When George’s stupidity causes him to flounder in high society, it’s humorous. But once he’s gained power, it’s harrowing. Most of the show remains with the monarchy and its inner circle, and yet there are haunting flashes of the rest of the world. As our main characters play their power games, their decisions affect the citizenry, as well as people in colonized land all over the world.

For some war is yet another tactic to maintain power, but for others it’s the reason they no longer have a spouse, a child, or their life. The sweet cream of this sexy series curdles whenever the show reveals the world beyond George and Mary’s myopia. It’s a rot that feels all too familiar.

Our leaders and their advisors may no longer be skilled in the art of sodomy, but the skills they’ve used to rise to power are just as useless to lead. They have the same lack of intelligence and moral backbone as this beautiful man and his dangly earring — they don’t need a magic cock to fuck us.


Mary & George airs Friday nights on Starz.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 538 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. This show was a fun romp. And the Mary/Sandie relationship was much more prominent than I expected! I’m shocked we haven’t had a full length article screaming about how fantastic Julianne and Niahm were together (please please please!). I’m sad we only got the one season, as parts felt rushed, but overall definitely a show that i enjoyed more than I expected

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