In an odd yet welcome turn of events, BBC Two has bought the rights to Harlots, Moira Buffini and Alison Newman’s excellent period drama set in the world of the 18th century London sex trade. But, you ask, didn’t Harlots come out years ago? On ITV? And wasn’t it just cancelled?
Yes, yes and yes to that. Harlots originally aired in the UK on now-defunct digital channel ITV Encore. It was a US-UK co-production between ITV Studios and streaming service Hulu in the US (home of The Handmaid’s Tale, the Veronica Mars remake, Runaways and more). When ITV Encore closed, StarzPlay UK bought the show’s streaming rights and aired seasons two and three via its Amazon Prime channel.
Last month, Hulu cancelled Harlots after three eight-episode seasons, and this month, BBC Two has bought them all. It plans to air seasons one and two back to back later this year, with season three following in 2021. Finally then, after being passed around like a sex aid at an orgy, the show has a mainstream UK home where it will reach a wider audience.
This is good news because Harlots is terrific viewing. It’s dynamic and colourful and packed with incident and characters you care deeply about. The cast is faultless and packed with joys from Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville (who play competing madams Margaret Wells and Lydia Quigley), to Jessica Brown Findlay as renowned courtesan and Margaret’s eldest daughter, Charlotte, to the terrific Danny Sapani, Holli Dempsey, Dorothy Atkinson, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Hugh Skinner, Liv Tyler… so many great actors, it’s an embarrassment of riches.
Here’s the official synopsis:
Set against the backdrop of 18th century Georgian London, Harlots is a powerful family drama offering a brand new take on the city’s most valuable commercial activity – sex. Inspired by the stories of real women, the series follows Margaret Wells (Morton) and her daughters, as she struggles to reconcile her roles as mother and brothel owner.
When her business comes under attack from Lydia Quigley (Manville), a rival madam with a ruthless streak, Margaret fights back, even if it means putting her family at risk. Brown Findlay stars as Charlotte, Margaret’s eldest daughter and the city’s most coveted courtesan who begins to grapple with her position in both society and her immediate family.
And here’s why it comes highly recommended from us. As soon as an air date is confirmed, we’ll let you know.