'Mary & George' Sheds Light on King James and George Villiers's Love Triangle

"It was just soft power, really. You had to manipulate people, and I think she was the master manipulator.”

Brandon Charles - Author

Apr. 8 2024, Published 9:17 a.m. ET

Julianne Moore and Nicholas Galitzine in 'Mary & George'
Source: Starz

The new miniseries on Starz, Mary & George, is a seven-episode show about the affair between King James VI and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. Based on the 2017 book The King's Assassin: The Fatal Affair of George Villiers and James I by Benjamin Woolley, it’s a tale as old as time. A mom essentially pimps out her kid to the royal family to secure a place in high society. That’s the Mary.

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Although it sounds like it could be a mixture of Keeping Up with the Kardashians meets Love Island as covered by the British tabloid press, Mary & George is actually based on a real story.

George Villiers, played by Nicholas Galitzine, in 'Mary & George'
Source: Starz
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What happened between King James and George Villiers?

We understand you may not want to spend 368 pages (or 12 hours and 17 minutes) reading or listening to Woolley’s book. And while the book and the miniseries obviously aren't entirely accurate (it’s literally impossible to be entirely accurate in any fictionalized story, let alone one set 400 years in the past), the basic elements of the story are present and fascinating.

A Smithsonian Magazine piece about the show claims, “The real story behind the duo was in many ways even stranger than the new fictionalized retelling. James indeed lavished wealth and status on his much younger male favorite, George Villiers, referring to him as 'my sweetheart' or 'sweet child and wife.' Later, George was accused of fatally poisoning the king before being assassinated himself."

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'Mary & George' a meet-cute story with pimping involved.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Mary & George executive producer D.C. Moore spoke about the initial interaction between Mary and King James and him and George. “When Mary first sees the king [in the premiere], I think there’s an immediate understanding that — again, I’m going to use coarse language, I do apologize — she says, “He’s so cockstruck, it’s like a curse,” and she can see his obsession."

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When it comes to Mary's offspring, it's a bit different. "When George first sees the king, he’s in a service position, and he’s seeing more of the court and the intimidation of it, so his journey is much harder. He has to go into that court and stand up and be seen."

Julianne Moore in 'Mary & George'
Source: Getty Images
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Why would a mother use her offspring to get ahead?

In that same Hollywood Reporter interview fellow executive producer Liza Marshall points out something that needs to be remembered. “Because women had obviously no formal power at that time. They couldn’t hold property. They couldn’t have any money. It was just soft power, really. You had to manipulate people, and I think she was the master manipulator.”

D.C. adds, “Everything you see of Mary, she’s just this determined creature of force. That moment where she first sees the king is the seed of the show. [She’s] like, “Wow, this is my chance. I have this strapping young man, and this is a window of opportunity. Let’s go.”

Mary & George airs on Starz on Fridays at 9 p.m. and is available on the Starz app on Fridays at 12 p.m.

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