People keep asking us to review the second season of Harlots (2018), which premiered on Hulu over the summer and has been renewed for a third season. We did write several articles about the first season, discussing the hairstyles, the recycled costumes, some weird costumes, and the historically accurate treatment of race in Georgian London. We also interviewed Hallie Rubenhold, whose first book, Harris’ List of Covent Garden Ladies: Sex in the City in Georgian Britain, was the real-life source material for some of the fictional Harlots setting.
So you’d think we’d have plenty to say about the second series … except, well, here’s the thing. Sometimes, it’s easier to write about a new series than an ongoing one! Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying watching the continuing travails of the dueling whorehouses, but I don’t have a ton that’s new to say about it. Consider this my obligatory “yes, it’s on, it has pretty frocks, the story’s still fun, go watch it!” post then. With a few random points, such as…
1. Story Bits Leftover From Season One
Wham, bam, thank you ma’am, the loose ends are followed up immediately. The connection / attraction between Harriet and William hinted at in the final ep of last season gets her thrown out by Margaret Wells at the start of the first episode, and William follows. Fanny gave birth at the end of S1, and her baby is in now many scenes, with Margaret saying, “you can keep your baby … till she’s weened.” Violet and Amelia’s lesbian crush from the first series is the inspiration for Amelia to petition for Violet’s prison sentence to be lessened.
2. Welcome Liv Tyler
She has a relatively small role, showing up to pay off a debt to Lydia Quigley. But she does get a faaaaabulous wardrobe since her character is wealthy and upper class. Her hair is a little Marge Simpson-y, so if Kendra wants to chime in with another hair review, she can nitpick that.
3. A Few Costume Items of Note
Charlotte Mitchell is the new costume designer this season, though there are only small changes in the overall style. I’m guessing the series had more money thrown at it because there seem to be more large group scenes — card parties, the pleasure gardens, etc. — that show off silk and embroidered outfits, full wigs, and fine jewelry on both women and men. But the lower-class outfits are also shown in abundance and show plenty of detail.
A few things that stood out to me … like the beautiful yellow quilted petticoat that Margaret wears most everyday.
But this ruffled/pleated trim on Quigley’s dress annoys me. It’s modern and floppy.
I’m also irritated by the range in hat quality. Why is Charlotte’s grey hat such weaksauce? It looks cheap and quickly slapped together.
Yet Emily gets this lovely lacy black hat in a period style.
Lydia Quigley has a similar one in pink.
And of course, as the richest women, Lady Fitzwilliam has a fantastic Gainsborough style hat.
And then there’s Mrs. Scanwell, who is back with a new silly cap, instead of ruffles, she gets crisp pleats.
4. Good Wigs, but a Few Clunkers
Except for Quigley’s first wig (that she gives to the prison guard’s wife), there’s no more of the crazy light-socket frizzed-up wigs from season one. The styles tend to stay more solidly in 1760s-1770s shapes. They’re done reasonably well, except that, in the case of Quigley and other older women, the hair looks precisely like the wigs they are. As Kendra has noted before, displaying visible wig line was not done on women like it was on men.
Last season, Lucy Wells had modern little-girl hair (hanging down and with bows / headbands) as if to show her innocence or whatever (ugh). This season, she mostly has pinned up, period styles, but sometimes, her hair goes into WTFrock land…
5. More Recycled Movie Costumes
But hey, that happens in most any series. We get it. They have a whole lot of people to outfit! It’s actually done well as far as I’ve noticed — a little bit of re-trimming here and there to give things a fresh look. The folks at Recycled Movie Costumes have listed several re-wears, especially from the movie Belle (2013).
Have you watched Harlots season two?
I’m still getting through it. I want to make it last. I’m a big Liv Tyler fan and Lady Fitz is a welcome addition.
I’m waiting for Quigley’s son to grow up, stop thinking with his ‘smiley friend’, and to kick Emily to the curb. Also Lydia getting her just desserts .
Can Lady Fitz’s brother be any more creepy and a practitioner of incest too?
The incest storyline is SO icky! But I guess how else could they top the virgin-kidnapping-ring?
I feel like i’m the only one, but I found the second season unwatchable because the writing was just bad and some of the acting seemed weak. The dialogue was too on the nose instead of a more “show not tell” approach. The bit where Amelia starts yelling during court was ridiculous.
Costumes looked good though.
Was anyone else distracted by Margaret Wells’ bosom? There were multiple scenes where it looked like the bodice was just cutting in to poor Samatha Morton. I think I re-adjusted how my own (modern) undergarments fit in sympathy several times.
Also, wig-lines: could it be a commentary on the character wearing it being fake? Charlotte only wears an obvious wig-line when sucking up/dressing like Quigley and we know Quigley is hiding, well, everything. Also, all of the wig-lines appear on the higher status white wigs, could people still think that those were meant to appear fake?
I think using white hair wigs is just easier for a TV production to implement for both women & men than powdering, powder being the more historically accurate method.
I really didn’t like Lucy last season, and this season I COULDN’T STAND HER.
Violet’s maid outfit really irked me (plus I thought she was rather sidelined this season). I get that perhaps they were trying to visually communicate that she’s chafing against being an unpaid servant (cough slave cough), but the costume itself was really bizarre. If I remember correctly it had both a back and front closure, and I can’t imagine that a servant in a justice’s residence would get away with not wearing a fichu, and with her hair undone and practically about to burst open her cap.
On another note, I only realized a couple days ago that Justice Hunt is played by the same actor who played Comte de Provence in Coppola’s ‘Marie Antoinette’
(I thought he looked familiar…!)
I need this to have a UK air date. Neeeeeeeeeeed.