Warning: This article contains references to suicide that some readers may find distressing.


While kings and queens are born into power, the rest of us aren't so lucky. That was especially true in 17th century England, where poverty bred misery for anyone unlucky enough to be born outside of the royal court. But that didn't stop Mary Villiers from aspiring for something more, and so began her wildly ambitious plot to seduce King James VI and secure power for the Villiers household – except the King was not that way inclined, so her second-born son George took one for the team instead… so to speak.

Based on Benjamin Woolley's book, The King's Assassin, Sky-Starz TV drama Mary & George reimagines these true events through an extremely horny lens, which brings to mind another salacious British period drama: Bridgerton.

'The Ton' is also fixated on love, sex and the power struggles that are often borne out of that in a classist society, but the two shows couldn't be more different in how they approach those themes, and not just because Bridgerton is set 200 years later, during the Regency era.

Mary & George kicks off with a scandalous cruelty that would put even Lady Whistledown's printers out of action in a heartbeat. Right after George (Nicholas Galitzine) is born, Mary (Julianne Moore) lets him know that he is so worthless, he's not even worthy of a name. We then immediately cut to him purposely hanging from a tree as a young adult. But Mary cares not.

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There's a violence beyond words too, from the fate of George's father to the unfortunate scarring a poor maid endures, not to mention the bodies that pile up as the series goes on. And speaking of bodies piled up together, those aforementioned orgies aren't just glimpsed through a curtain or a door left ajar. No, the decadent lust that George and King James (Tony Curran) enjoy is on full display for us dear viewers, even if the occasional thrust or butt cheek is as explicit as it gets.

James being so "c**kstruck" is integral to the story, just as tamer yet still lustful versions of said horniness are key to Bridgerton. But when it comes to rumpy-pumpy of a queerer nature, the Netflix period drama falls frustratingly short.

Nicholas Galitzine leaning against a wood panelled wall wearing a white shirt and baroque patterned jacket.
Nicholas Galitzine as George Villiers in Mary & George. Sky

In season 1 of the flagship show, Benedict Bridgerton stumbled across a queer orgy while making friends with a closeted gay man. However, any hints that he himself might be queer – or at least questioning – were dashed when season 2 came and went with nary a Molly in sight (as the gays were so fashionably called back then).

Its spin-off Queen Charlotte upped the ante with a secret love story between Charlotte and her husband George's right-hand men Brimsley and Reynolds, but when they weren't sharing cheeky glances or a naughty bath, they were too busy gossiping about their masters to develop as actual characters in their own right. #Remsley served the plot just like they served their masters: from behind the scenes, with very little agency of their own to speak of.

For Mary & George, the opposite is true. Almost every person in the show is queer, and it's widely accepted by characters who are not in much the same way that racial equality is in Bridgerton. That's rarely the case in any queer story, let alone LGBTQ+ period dramas, which remain unfortunately rare beyond the likes of Maurice, Gentleman Jack and Tipping the Velvet.

Strangely enough, the closest comparison in that regard might be Our Flag Means Death, David Jenkins's gay pirate show where bisexuality and non-binary identities feature heavily throughout. That's also the case in Mary & George, where George's bisexuality is never ignored or overlooked throughout his pursuit of the king.

George lying on the floor next to King James
Nicholas Galitzine as George and Tony Curran as King James in Mary & George. Sky

And it's not just the men who get into each other's breeches. Mary is also partial to a queer dalliance with members of the same sex, most notably with Sandie (Niamh Algar), her sex worker-turned-lover. Their power struggles are particularly interesting as they reveal a softer, submissive side to Mary akin to the dynamics most recently explored in Fellow Travelers, a very different kind of queer period drama.

But despite the various shapes they take, what all these period dramas do have in common, including Bridgerton, is that they remind us gay people did exist in the past, and that we have always existed, even if the history books have a peculiar tendency to overlook our existence. And crucially, we weren't just side characters in someone else's story.

LGBTQ+ people have often been at the forefront of change and revolution, a lesson Bridgerton could surely learn from Mary & George, its evil yet far more ambitious – and realistic – gay cousin.

Mary & George is available on Sky Atlantic and NOW from Tuesday 5th March. Find Sky deals here.

Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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