Good-Bye, Golden Square – Harlots Is No More

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Earlier this month, Hulu announced that there would be no more seasons of Harlots (2017-2019). The three seasons have to stand on their own, right where we left the respective whorehouses started by Margaret Wells and Lydia Quigley. Various storylines were tied up reasonably well — not to give any major spoilers away — so it’s not too terrible an ending.

Harlots (2018), Leslie Manville

We got three years of Leslie Manville‘s excellent scenery-chewing!

Harlots (2019), Jessica Brown Findlay

And Jessica Brown Findlay being plucky & sassy.

But it’s still a shame to lose the show since it was a rare historical costume drama with female producers, directors, and writers as well as characters. Set in the late 18th-century London, the series was based in historical fact, specifically the nonfiction book Harris’ List of Covent Garden Ladies: Sex in the City in Georgian Britain by Hallie Rubenhold. The actual Harris’ List was something of a guidebook to London prostitutes, which Rubenhold researched and brought to light.

With women creating the TV series from the start, it should be no surprise that Harlots showed women as sex workers without being exploitative but while showing the precariousness and violence of their lives. Sex was a job, sex was currency, sex was a fact of life, and many reviews noted how the show made use of a positive “female gaze” instead of a reductive male gaze.

Harlots (2017)

The men in Harlots were either culls to be fucked for money (some of whom were dangerously out for more), or dorks like Charlie Quigley, spoiled & pampered by his mum.

And talk about representation! Harlots included queer characters and Black characters who had complicated, non-cliched storylines that also reflected the breadth of historical experiences.

Harlots (2019), Harriet

Harriet goes from being enslaved in America to rescuing her children from a future of chattel slavery to basically running her own bawdy house in London. It’s not an easy life, but she has more control over it at the end of the series than she started with.

Harlots (2019)

Season 3 introduced more people of color with Elizabeth Harvey and her son Fredo. She ran a molly house for male prostitutes, with the cover as a tailoring shop.

The series even showed women of different sizes as attractive, smart, and capable.

Harlots had all of that AND pretty dresses that were reasonably historically accurate. Yes, folks, it can be done. A lot of the costumes were recycled from other productions (typical of a show with a large cast and probably a small budget), but the ladies all had proper corsets and hair was usually worn up, with very few exceptions. Maybe the hair wasn’t perfect, maybe the costumes were a little mish-mashy 18th-century, but they’re not as tedious (ehem, Poldark, 2015-9),  repetitive (sorry, The Great, 2020-), or all over the map (hello, Outlander, 2014-) as some recent series.

Harlots (2019), Liv Tyler

So pour one out for the bawds of Golden Square, and let’s hope it isn’t the last female-run, female-focused, multiracial historical costume drama we see in a while!

 

Have you watched Harlots on Hulu?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

15 Responses

  1. Kathleen Julie Norvell

    I enjoyed the hell out of Harlots. I loved the fact that it was about women’s empowerment in an age when women were property. I appreciated that it portrayed all sorts of bawdy houses and denizens. Of all the 18th century costume dramas I have seen in the past 10 years, I felt it was the most authentic in so many ways. Yes, the costumes and wigs were all over the map, but at least they were all 18th century. We saw the squalor we usually don’t see in such a production. Harlots was a regular binge-session with dinner and wine. I will miss it.

    Reply
  2. KS

    Disappointing, but not surprising–particularly after Jessica Brown-Findlay and Samantha Morton made their exit last season. Still, I’ll be sad to see it go; having a period drama that was as women-centric as Harlots was great and the characters were always a blast to watch.

    Reply
  3. Sam Marchiony

    The costumes weren’t always perfect, but I adored the characters, and I hope everyone on this show gets new work very soon.

    Reply
  4. LadySlippers

    Can we petition to have another channel/network/streaming service pick up the show?

    Reply
  5. A'Maia Mills

    I was so excited about what the next season was going to be like too😭😭. I need somebody to pick the show up so we can at least get one more season.

    Reply
  6. Brandy Holobaugh

    Aww this is awful. Really loved this show. One of the reasons I really got into Hulu. Would be great for it to continue somehow.

    Reply
  7. Amanda

    I am super disappointed that Harlots is no more. Plz plz plz someone else pick it up and keep it going. This is one of those shows that should go on for many seasons. So many storylines to still focus on. For example, the women in America…. This show was so different than anything else on tv and shouldn’t have ended where it’s being left. So sad.

    Reply
  8. JA

    Really, Really upsetting😠😠😠 I Loved the show and was eagerly waiting on the next season to come out!!! I hope another service picks the show up!!

    Reply
  9. Le

    Any chance we could get a Danny Sapani Man Candy Monday in “honor” ( through that doesn’t feel like the right word, does it) of the end of such an interesting (and unfortunately unique) show?

    Reply
  10. Mary Alice Orito

    Oh, poo! I eagerly awaited each season and am so disappointed it’s ending. I agree with some of the comments…can’t somebody pick this up? Netflix? BritBox???? Somebody. Just when a program comes along that shows women reinventing themselves in spite of being objects…they stop!

    Reply
  11. LadySlippers

    BBC 2 picked up Harlots and will start showing the first 3 seasons. So hopefully they will continue production.

    Reply

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