“Mock if you will,” Christian Evangelist Florence Scanwell (Dorothy Atkinson) chided the bordello workers in Hulu‘s progressive period series Harlots. “There is honor in righteous poverty.” The creative team will be finding new places of employment. Harlots has been cancelled at the streaming service, according to THR, nine months after its third season came to a close.
Based on true stories of real women, Harlots was neither clichéd nor glamorous. It depicted sex work as legitimate. The sex wasn’t gratuitous, it was perfunctory, and there is no judgment of it. The series was written, directed and produced entirely by women. Co-creators Moira Buffini (Jane Eyre) and Alison Newman were Executive Producers alongside Alison Owen, Debra Hayward and Alison Carpenter. Season 3 was written by Buffini, Jane English, Vivienne Harvey and Jessica Ruston, and directed by Robin Sheppard, Chloe Thomas and Debs Paterson, with Pat Tookey-Dickson producing.
Harlots was set in 1763 London. The series follows brothel owner Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) and her daughters Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay), the city’s most coveted courtesan, and Lucy (Eloise Smyth), whose virginity is auctioned off. They have to save their family business from ruthless rival madam Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville), who brings bedlam to Britain’s sex trade. Their cathouse on Greek Street in Soho suffers constant persecution from the police, who launch brutal raids, and smear campaigns from religious zealots. The series also starred Liv Tyler as Lady Fitzwilliam, Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones, The Predator), Ash Hunter (The Secret Agent), and Holli Dempsey.
Inspired by The Covent Garden Ladies by British historian Hallie Rubenhold, Harlots is based in truth, deriving some of its details from “Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies,” a prostitute ratings guide of the time. With few employment choices, historian estimate there were about 50,000 women sex workers, as many as one in five young women, in London during the Georgian era (1714 to 1830). The average prostitute could earn 80 times more than a cleaning woman would make in a year. According to Dan Cruickshank’s book The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital, prostitution was encouraged in English society. Royalty, famous artists, writers and musicians visited “boarding houses,” and wealthy men often lived double lives.
The cancellation comes as Hulu has been adding original series, including Mrs. America, Devs and the upcoming The Old Man and A Teacher, to its FX on Hulu hub. Hulu originals also include The Great, The Handmaid’s Tale, Normal People, Ramy, PEN15, Shrill, Solar Opposites and the upcoming Love, Victor.
Harlots series wrapped its third and final season in August.