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Pop CultureJune 30, 2017

Beware the fierce as heck 18th century women of Harlots


With Harlots arriving exclusively to Lightbox today, Tara Ward delves into the teaser trailer for the women-led period drama. 

Harlots has me more excited about a television programme than the time I found out they were bringing back Anne of Green Gables. While my Anne anticipation ended badly with a red-haired orphan running across a WW1 battlefield in a nun’s habit (it still makes no sense), every lush second I’ve seen of Harlots previews gives me confidence that this series won’t disappoint.

It’s 1763 in London, and ambitious brothel owner Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) is keen to improve her situation by opening a new “boarding house for young ladies” in a posh part of town. Margaret’s plan pisses rival madam and long-time enemy Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville) right off, as well as the flock of religious reformers desperate to shut the “she-hounds” and their brothels down.

So begins a bawdy battle of the bordello that might make you want to creep down your own dark alley and draw a heart shaped mole on your cheek, ASAP. Written and directed by an all-women team, Harlots promises a colourful world of eighteenth-century sexual politics from a female perspective, with more powdered wigs than you can shake a china pisspot at.

Let’s see what other treasures can be pulled from the heaving bosom of Harlots.

Welcome to period costume drama heaven

Clap your hands and lick your screen in happiness, because Harlots promises to be everything that a great costume drama should be.

Vivid colours, fabulous costumes and moody set design all help create the contrasting worlds of the two brothels. There are four poster beds aplenty, more capes than a superhero convention and when Lydia said London was “full of perils”, I can only imagine she meant the wigs.

They’re taller than Big Ben, and I want one as much as I want to rub my face on Margaret’s glorious flocked wallpaper.

The staredowns are epic

First one to blink loses everything.


The women are fierce af

Samantha Morton seems perfectly cast as the indomitable Margaret, while Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown-Findlay makes Lady Sybil’s campaign to wear pants to dinner seem like one of those weird dreams you have after eating too much cheese.

None of the Harlots characters back down from a challenge. “If she kicks me, I will bite her back,” Margaret promises, which seems fair. Who’s going to argue with a biting brothel owner? Not me, I’m too busy touching up the wallpaper.


Power struggles ahoy

Margaret claims that money is a woman’s only power in the world, and you can tell by the way Lydia slams her hand down on her fancy couch that she won’t give up her wealth and prestige without a fight.

Or that horn on a stand. She probably won’t give that up, either. *slams hand on couch again*.

It also includes an 18C human Facebook comments section

Down with the she-hounds, up with the blinkered frilly hat-visor thing. Society, never change.


Powder your foreheads and adjust your lace headwear, ladies and gents, because this is going to be good *slams hand on couch*.

For more than a tease, click below to watch Harlots, exclusively on Lightbox

This content, like all television coverage we do at The Spinoff, is brought to you thanks to the excellent folk at Lightbox. Do us and yourself a favour by clicking here to start a FREE 30 day trial of this truly wonderful service.

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