Harlots (Series 2) – BBC 2

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This has been superb.  I watched the first series, on ITV Encore, but then it moved to Starzplay, which I haven’t got.  So I was very pleased when it was announced that BBC 2 would be showing both series 2 and series 3.   A series about feuding brothels in 18th century London sounds rather prurient, but it isn’t like that.  There’s an ’80s soap element to it, with the feuds and the elaborate clothes and the fancy houses, but a lot of what it shows is about the role of women in Georgian London – the susceptibility of vulnerable women to abuse, and also the way in which other women were able to take advantage of the demand for their “services”, either from a “keeper” or within a “bawdy house”.  It shows how the male Establishment would close ranks to protect their own – although, in the conclusion to this series, the women get the better of them, and it’s a big cast of strong female characters who lead all the plotlines.

We also see the diversity of Georgian London.  A lot of the women had come to London from various parts of the country, hoping to find work there.  There are a number of prominent black characters.  We see very few dwarf actors on TV, but one of the harlots is a dwarf.  We’ve got “molly boy” male prostitutes, as well as female prostitutes, and we’ve got lesbian and bisexual characters.  But none of it’s done in tokenistic way: each character is a full and natural part of what’s going on.

It’s well-written, well-acted, appeals to the senses – the costumes and hairstyles are amazing! – and is always entertaining.  Bring on series 3!

The feud between brassy but good-natured Margaret Wells and snooty, evil Lydia Quigley’s expanded in the second series to include a third bawdy house, run by Lydia’s son Charles and ambitious harlot Emily Lacey.  Without giving away the entire plot, there are murders and attempted murders.  We find out that Margaret and Lydia were once very close, and learn more about their backgrounds, and we see how Margaret’s relationship with both her daughters is affected by the situation which they’re all in.  Also in the mix are the puritanical mother and daughter preaching against prostitution, although we know that the mother was once a prostitute herself, Lady Isabella, whom Lydia Quigley knows is hiding away a secret child born as a result of abuse by her brother, and the Lord Chief Justice, who keeps ending up with either Lydia or Margaret in front of him in court but can’t do too much about either of them in case their associates reveal his own penchant for harlots.

However, away from all the feuding and the nightlife and the ’80s soap-ish stuff, there’s a “Gentleman’s Club” of vile aristocratic man who enjoy raping young virgins, procured for them by Lydia Quigley.  Everyone becomes embroiled in all sorts of intrigues as they try to expose each other: there is a definite touch of Dallas and Dynasty about it, in a very well-portrayed Georgian setting, but we don’t forget that there are many women being exploited by rich men.  Satisfyingly, at the end of this series, the goodies come out on top … but there’s another series to come, when doubtless everything will get even more tangled.  Bring it on!

 

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