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‘Mary & George’ Premiere Recap: Sodomy Is Valuable Currency

As light and fun as it can be, Mary & George begins with a thud. The first episode of Starz’s scintillating new limited series about Jacobean-era English schemers—led by Julianne Moore as Countess of Buckingham Mary Villiers and Nicholas Galitzine as her second son, George—opens by dropping poor baby George, fresh from the womb, onto the floor. “Who dropped him?” Mary asks her two chambermaids. She’s not expecting a reply; she’s expecting them to pick him up. George is, after all, still attached to his mother by umbilical cord, and Mary does not suffer incompetence, as we’ll soon come to learn.

Things don’t bode well for poor George from the start. There’s a reason that Mary is less incensed by her staff’s mistake than she is purely annoyed. “Perhaps they should’ve left you on the floor to rot,” she whispers to George, cradled in her arms once more. “Do you know why? You are my second son. You will inherit nothing of value. What use are you to anybody?” It’s a tough sentiment—the kid’s still covered in bodily fluids, and already he’s getting a lecture from his mother—but not exactly an untrue one. During this period in English history, family and bloodlines were everything; if you were not a daughter who could marry into a wealthy brood, or the first-born son who would inherit a family’s estate, there was little intrinsic worth to your mere existence.

That’s the spirit that drives Mary and the worry that nips at her back everywhere she goes. After narrowly escaping a lowly destiny of her own, she’s desperate to make sure that she never returns to that status. She’ll do anything to secure her family’s name in good social standing, but with her first son, John (Tom Victor), growing more violent and troubled, her prospects don’t look good. That is, until the opportunity to pimp George out to England’s King James I arises, and it’s a chance that Mary can’t possibly pass up. While George is less hasty to be objectified, this reluctance creates a push-pull dynamic that Mary & George lays its groundwork upon in its excellent premiere, with plenty of nasty schemes and sex to build upon by the first installment’s end.

In the years following his infanthood tumble in 1592, things haven’t gotten much better for George. Toward the start of the premiere, now in 1612, Mary finds George hanging from a tree, approaching him with the same vexation she had when her chambermaids dropped George on the floor as a baby. Mary sighs, cuts George down, and has him dragged back to their home to heal. She chalks it up to teenage dramatics; George doesn’t want to go to France to learn etiquette and manners because he’s in love with one of the Villiers’ female servants, and stages a Shakespearean hanging in protest.

A still from Episode 1 of Mary & George showing Nicholas Galitzine as George Villiers.

Nicholas Galitzine as George Villiers.

Rory Mulvey/Starz

Mary is wise to his games, and they’re exactly the kinds of antics that she’s intent on shipping George off to France to curb. “No” is not an option for George, seeing as John’s precarious mental disposition has kept him from finding a woman to wed (and a dowry to acquire). But that’s not the only trouble the Villiers are facing. Mary’s abusive husband, Sir George, tumbled to his death in the middle of one of their fights, leaving Mary to discover that their estate is in more jeopardy than she realized. Sir George’s will stipulated that his house would be sold to one of his cousins following his death, to conceal part of the massive debt he had accrued in his life. Mary will have to pay a fixed rent to stay in her own home, a sum that she can barely scrape together if her sons fail to achieve anything of importance.

What’s more, her family name is being threatened after the executor of their estate finds out that Sir George made payments to the Beaumont family, which Mary allegedly hailed from. Sir George paid off the Beaumonts to maintain that Mary was one of their daughters, when in reality, she was one of their servants, whom Sir George took a liking to. If the truth is discovered, it could ruin Mary’s name forever. Mary wastes no time finding another husband, Sir Thomas Compton (Sean Gilder). Mary asks nothing of his inheritance, only a stipend to send George to France for his education. “First you talk like a courtesan, and now just like a bookkeeper,” Sir Thomas tells Mary. “Front and back of the same shop,” she replies.

A still from Episode 1 of Mary & George showing Tony Curran  as King James and David Weiss as King of Denmark.

Tony Curran as King James and David Weiss as King of Denmark.

Rory Mulvey/Starz

Sir Thomas’ grand estate is scouted by King James’ men for his royal highness’ summer travels, and Mary begs her new husband to put up the king’s court, despite all of their hedonistic mess. “What’s the worst a well-hung beauty can do?” she asks, after Sir Thomas tells her of the chaos that follows the men of the king’s bedchamber. These men are a harem, kept at royalty’s right hand for pleasure whenever the king demands. But none holds the king’s ear like the Earl of Somerset (Laurie Davidson), a rugged man who is as power-hungry as Mary. Mary knows that if she has any chance of moving up even further, she must topple the Earl. What a perfect time for George to return from his travels in France!

In the French countryside, George learned not only manners and etiquette, but also sex and romance with his fellow students. He can finger the strings of a cello as well as he can the anus of another man, and returns to England with the knowledge of how to use both to lure someone for what he wants. Finally having experienced a life outside of his home, George has a far better understanding of his mother, and the two are ready to indulge in a dangerous game together. “You must be terrified, no?” Mary asks the Earl of Somerset when she finds him wandering around her home nude and rude. “The king’s head will turn one day for another more beautiful.”

Speaking with Sir David Graham (Angus Wright)—the sole Brit in the King’s court full of Scotsmen, whom Sir David deplores—Mary hatches a plan. “That surly sodomite Somerset and his Scottish semen guzzlers!” Sir David exclaims, an ass-fucking version of “sea sells seashells.” Mary asks if he would prefer if the country was ruled by their own, home-grown sodomites, to which Sir David asks if she knows any. “I may,” Mary replies.

A still from Episode 1 of Mary & George showing Laurie Davidson as Earl Somerset and Pearl Chanda as Countess Somerset.

Laurie Davidson as Earl Somerset and Pearl Chanda as Countess Somerset.

Rory Mulvey/Starz

Mary and Sir David pull some strings and get George a prime spot serving the king’s table at one of their meals. But to do this, they knock another prospective mate for the king’s bedchamber out of the running. In revenge, the would-be server trips George in front of the king, and an enraged George beats the server to a pulp. Earl of Somerset punishes him by readying his blade to cut off George’s hand—a customary result of starting a physical altercation in front of royalty. At the last moment, King James stops the amputation, causing the Earl public embarrassment as the king denies his closest confidant.

It’s a sign of shifting alliances, just as Mary predicted, and mother and son meet in the woods to hash out their next move. They must strike while George is young and as beautiful as ever—full face and pouty smolder. It helps that Galitzine’s visage would stop anyone in their tracks just off his lips alone. But Moore is equally gifted, carrying this episode on her back with Mary’s entrancing confidence. Meanwhile, the erotic scenes between Galitzine and some of his French classmates assert that Mary & George is as much a show about power as it is about lust.

How those two things intertwine—and all of the debris that falls in the wake of their collision—is the series’ primary concern. If the premiere is any indication of the six episodes to follow, we’re in for a heady treat as we find out just how far this wicked mother and son will be willing to take their captivating, obscene bid for royal favor.

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