Harlots: everything you need to know about BBC 2’s exciting new period drama

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Diverse and bold, Harlots is the period drama with a twist that is coming to BBC Two on Wednesday 5 August.

Samantha Morton. Lesley Manville. Jessica Brown Findlay. Liv Tyler. Rosalind Eleazar. Oh, and a small appearance from Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan.

With a cast featuring such brilliant names, it’s little wonder that Harlots – the period drama inspired by Hallie Rubenhold’s The Covent Garden Ladies – was a triumph among critics and viewers when it first aired in 2017.

But the series, which ran for two seasons, was broadcast on ITV Encore in the UK and Hulu in America, which means a lot of would-be fans might have missed it. 

However, it’s now going to be played on mainstream UK television, as it’s just been announced that BBC Two has acquired the whole series – which includes an unseen third season.

Harlots season one and season two will be aired back to back on BBC Two in August 2020, while season three will air at a later date.

Interest piqued? Let’s take a look at what it’s all about…

What is the Harlots TV series about?

Set against the backdrop of 18th century Georgian London, Harlots is a powerful drama with a brand new take on the city’s most valuable commercial activity at the time: sex. Inspired by the stories of real women, the series follows Margaret Wells and her daughters, as she struggles to reconcile her roles as mother and brothel owner.

When her business comes under attack from Lydia Quigley, a rival madam with a ruthless streak, Margaret must fight back, even if it means putting her family at risk. Charlotte, who is Margaret’s eldest daughter and the city’s most coveted courtesan, begins to grapple with her position in both society and her immediate family.

The entire series – which apparently boasts just as much male nudity as it does female – was written and directed by an all-female crew. And it is angled from an entirely female gaze – or, as executive producer Alison Owen once said, a “whore’s eye view”.

Harlots
Harlots: Rosalind Eleazar plays Violet in the thrilling series.

Owen told ITV: “In 1760s London there were brothels on every corner run by women who were both enterprising and tenacious. History has largely ignored them, but their stories are in turn outrageous, brutal, humorous and real.”

Co-creator Moira Buffini added that “it’s a show about economics as much as it is about sex workers”.

She said: “The economics of this world are all-consuming. Nobody wants to see a timid piece of work, and we’re all motivated by things we see around us in the world today. We’re refracting it through this prism of the past.”

Watch the trailer for Harlots season one

Who stars in Harlots?

Brothel owner Margaret Wells is played by Morton, while Danny Sapan is her partner, William North. 

Findlay Brown portrays Margaret’s headstrong eldest daughter Charlotte, and Manville excels as the ruthless Lydia Quigley.

Rosalind Eleazar also stars as bold and funny street girl Violet Cross. And Tyler joins the cast in seasons two and three, playing the very wealthy and leisurely Lady Isabella Fitzwilliam. 

When is Harlots on BBC Two?

The first two episodes of Harlots will air on BBC Two on Wednesday 5 August 2020. The episodes will also be available to catch up with on BBC iPlayer.

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Images: Hulu

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…