Mary & George's Julianne Moore on Mary's sexual fluidity and queer relationship

Queen Elizabeth I was dubbed the “Virgin Queen,” but under her successor King James I, the court became a hotbed of sexual fluidity, as depicted in Mary & George on STARZ. The addicting Jacobean romp about one of James’s favorites, George Villiers, and his calculating social-climbing mother, Mary, features courtiers in flagrante delicto — queer and otherwise. Among those enjoying the pleasures of the same sex besides King James and his band of boys including George is Julianne Moore’s Mary. However, her physical relationship with Sandie, an arresting sex worker whose power throws Mary off balance, is more than a sexual fling.

“I think she's looking for a partner, and she's looking for someone she considers an equal. The sexual hierarchy is so prevalent in her life, where she's always tied to a male figure, that I don't know that she feels completely at ease,” Moore tells Advocate Channel. “And suddenly, she meets this woman who's kind of very bold and very beautiful and really connects with her.”

NIamh Algar as Sandie, Julianne Moore as Mary, and Trine Dyrholm as Queen Anne  of Denmark in Mary & George
NIamh Algar as Sandie, Julianne Moore as Mary, and Trine Dyrholm as Queen Anne of Denmark in Mary & George

NIamh Algar as Sandie, Julianne Moore as Mary, and Trine Dyrholm as Queen Anne of Denmark in Mary & George Courtesy STARZ

The limited series from creator D.C. Moore kicks off with the harrowing birth of Mary Villiers’s second son, George (Red, White & Royal Blue’s Nicholas Galitzine), who grows into a notable beauty. While Mary hails from a family of some note, her financial status is thrown into peril when her first husband dies and she’s left to fend for herself and her four children. Though she remarries into some standing, she schemes to place her beautiful son George directly before King James (Tony Curran), whose predilection for young, handsome men is the subject of whispers throughout the kingdom.

Mary rises through the court while George beds the king, securing his place in society. Amid the plotting and occasional murder, Mary returns to Sandie (Niamh Algar) for a sexual connection and solace.

“She finds this sort of wonderful romantic relationship and partnership with her too. It’s the one place I think Mary feels safe, where she feels like she’s not going to be threatened,” Moore says.

Queer royals began garnering attention not long ago with Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2018 film, The Favourite, which starred Oscar-winner Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, who bedded two female favorites, according to the film. King James was Anne’s great-grandfather, and at at time when his court was flush with male lovers, he also commissioned the King James Version of the Bible.

Moore was initially drawn into the story through D.C. Moore's writing, adapted from Benjamin Woolley’s 2017 nonfiction book The King’s Assassin: The Fatal Affair of George Villers and James I. The Oscar winner, who has played queer eight times now with the addition of Mary & George, joined the project as its star and as an executive producer.

“Right from the first page [the writing] was so vivid. It was so arresting and so unlike anything that I’d read in terms of period drama that the character really leaped out at me,” Moore says. “I loved her.”

Julianne Moore as Mary and Nicholas Galitzine as George in Mary & George
Julianne Moore as Mary and Nicholas Galitzine as George in Mary & George

Julianne Moore as Mary and Nicholas Galitzine as George in Mary & George Courtesy STARZ

Of course, the key to Mary & George’s delicious drama is the twisted mother-and-son dynamic, given that she sends him off with instruction to woo the king first as a royal cup holder (not a euphemism) and later in the king’s bed chambers. While this mother and son’s machinations are often jaw-dropping, their same-sex affairs, while fiery, are thoughtfully rendered.

"I think you also see in Mary the same fluidity that George possesses," Moore says. "They are people who are very comfortable in their sexuality and very comfortable using their sexuality to advance themselves if they need to. But it's also something that they can enjoy themselves."


Watch the full interview with Julianne Moore and Nicholas Galitzine below. Mary & George airs on Fridays on STARZ.