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Scheming and Sex in a Queer King’s Court

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nytimes.com

Standing in a shadowy archway on a bridge leading into Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire, England, sheep nibbling the grass below, Julianne Moore curtsied deeply, lowering her eyes before a splendidly gowned woman. “Your Majesty,” she began, before being drowned out by a loud “baa” from the sheep.

Moore burst out laughing, as did her fellow actress, Trine Dyrholm, who was playing Queen Anne of England. “Talk to the sheep!” Moore commanded the director, Oliver Hermanus. “Tell them we’re doing a TV mini-series!” That mini-series is the visually sumptuous, seven-part “Mary and George,” strewn with sex scenes that look like Caravaggio paintings and riddled with all the good things: intrigue, scheming, cunning and villainy.

The show, which premieres on Starz on April 5, was inspired by Benjamin Woolley’s 2018 nonfiction book, “The King’s Assassin,” and tells the mostly true tale of Mary Villiers (Moore), a minor 17th-century aristocrat with major ambitions, and her ridiculously handsome son, George (Nicholas Galitzine), who she uses as a path to power and riches at the court of King James I (Tony Curran).

James likes ridiculously handsome young men. “The king,” says Mary’s new husband, Lord Compton, “is a dead-eyed, horny-handed horror who surrounds himself with many deceitful well-hung beauties.” George’s ascent isn’t easy: Mary must get the current favorite, the Earl of Somerset (Laurie Davidson), out of the way; forge and break alliances; and murder the odd opponent.

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