Originally premiered on ITV Encore in March 2017, Harlots has recently been picked up by BBC, with the series airing from the beginning in August. Written, directed and produced by an all-female team, and created by Moira Buffini and Alison Newman, the 18th-century drama is set in London and follows brothel owner Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton). As well as her two daughters, Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Lucy (Eloise Smyth), Maragaret also runs her business from the family home. But when it is attacked by rival Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville), a war breaks out over the city’s most profitable commercial activity: sex.
Harlots is a saucy and lavish period drama that brilliantly depicts the lives that many young girls had to live in the 18th century.
Based on Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, an annual directory of prostitutes working in Georgian London at that time, which was printed as a small pocketbook and published from 1757 to 1795, each of the characters have a vibrant personality to emphasise what certain men were looking for when they walked the night in search for a lady.
Samantha Morton is absolutely fantastic. After watching her in The Walking Dead recently, it’s great to see her in something that I can like her character in, but her presence on screen is just as strong here. Jessica Brown Findlay is brilliant, too. I’ve always liked her as an actress but don’t often relate to her characters, but it’s so easy to enjoy her role in this.
Eloise Smyth also gives a great performance, as all of the younger girls do. I recognise many of them from more recent dramas, so it’s good to see that they’ve done well since the original release of this series.
But as entertaining as the series is, it’s shocking to learn that one in five women made a living from selling sex in 1760s London, and that some of those girls were as young as twelve. Some of the actresses in the series do look young, but you can tell that they are made to look younger than they are.
There are three seasons in total so there are still two more to look forward to. Hulu have since cancelled the show, but maybe we can hope for another one if this re-run picks up a large enough audience? I’ve heard great things about the next two series anyway, so I’m looking forward to them already.