Harlots – Coming Soon!


As I was updating our list of upcoming historical costume movies and TV series for the new year, I noticed a show called Harlots, described as “Brothel owner, Margaret Wells, struggles to raise her daughters in London during the 18th century.” Now doesn’t that sound fun? But looking on IMDB, the source of all truth, I couldn’t find any photos and very little news aside from the premiere date — March 29, 2017, on Hulu (note to self: get Hulu). Also, I saw that the costume designer was Edward K. Gibbon, and his resume includes the awful, prom-dress-infested 2016 War & Peace. Dammit, I needed pictures, I needed to see if this “Harlots” show was going to suck.


One of the great things about the 21st century is that everyone has a cameraphone in their pocket. That includes 20-something actors, makeup artists, set designers, and people-on-the-street who happen to be near historical costume series filming in the neighborhood. So they all snap pix and post them on Twitter and Instagram. This probably drives directors nuts because it’s spoiler-riffic and great for the paparazzi. It’s also great for Frock Flicks.

After a couple hours of Internet stalking sleuthing, I was relieved to see that Harlots, produced by Hulu and British channel ITV, looks to be using pretty decent 18th-century costumes, wigs, and makeup, plus period settings and accoutrements. Sure, it could still suck in a million ways, and they could screw up how the costumes are worn, but these behind-the-scenes images seem to indicate that the production team is giving it a better try than War & Peace, at least.


Harlots (2016)

A montage someone created of the pix they took of filming around Fitzroy Square, London.

Harlots (2016)

Lottie Tolhurst’s selfie, she plays Kitty Carter.

Harlots (2016)

Selfie from Morgan Watkins, who plays Mr. Osborne (on this post, he said the character’s kind of a jerk!).

2016 Harlots

A peek inside the costume trailer with Rosy Rudkin, a costume assistant (you know you’d do this too!).

Harlots (2016)

Wig shot from Charlie Stanton, a designer.

Harlots (2016)

Filming at a grand hall.

Harlots (2016)

Tristan Hoare art gallery “transformed into a film set for ITV’s Harlots.”

Harlots (2016)

Various cast waiting in the lunch line.

Harlots (2016)

“Not an everyday sight outside of the office.”

The series’ executive producer Alison Owen describes the story:

“In 1760s London, there were brothels on every corner run by women who were both enterprising and tenacious. History has largely ignored them, but their stories are in turn outrageous, brutal, humorous and real.”

I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration as to the number of brothels, but Georgian London did have a seedy underside that’s well documented (check out Hogarth’s prints, for starters). Looking at it from the women’s point of view would be refreshing, and the series has a lot of women behind the scenes too, including an all-female writing team, female directors for each episode, and female producers. The series promises to have equal time for male nudity as female, and producer Owen told the Television Critics Association:

“It was very important to us from the beginning to make it about the female gaze. Our hope from the beginning was, ‘Everything from the whore’s eye view.'”

I scrounged for these photos last week, and then bam Hulu drops a teaser trailer on January 7, plus I found a few official photos.

Harlots (2017), Eloise Smyth

Eloise Smyth plays Lucy Wells, maybe a harlot, judging by the corset (which appears quite historically accurate).

2016 Harlots

Is that Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) in the foreground?

2016 Harlots

Samantha Morton plays brothel owner Margaret Wells. Photo credit: Liam Daniel/Hulu/Monumental/ITV

2016 Harlots

Lesley Manville (center) is Lydia Quigley, owner of a rival brothel, and doesn’t she look fancy!



Do you have access to ITV or Hulu — will you be watching Harlots?

22 Responses

  1. ladylavinia1932

    They could have set this story during the Victorian era, considering that period (especially in London) was notorious for the sex trade.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      But there have been a lot of Victorian whores on-screen; it’s a pretty typical story. Of Victorian shows on right now / recently, Ripper Street has a long-running prostitute storyline. There’s even Westworld, which is a fantasy of Old West 1880s-ish (robot) prostitutes, from what I can tell.

      • Bronwyn

        Oh no. :( Hopefully it will be done as well, and interspersed with classical too, as Marie Antoinette was. I was surprised how little MA bothered me that way.

        • Trystan L. Bass

          Yeah, I loved it in Marie Antoinette, but in so many TV shows, a modern soundtrack drives me nuts. I don’t know if that’s bec. MA had music I love in general *and* MA was a gorgeous, mostly historical-looking film otherwise, & most of the TV shows that use modern music have sucky, non-period costumes & stories (Copper is one that comes to mind — I watched literally 10 minutes of it & turned off bec. of the terrible soundtrack & the bad costumes; I enjoyed the mix of modern music & period setting a little more in Peaky Blinders bec. it was very purposefully done, but then, it did get tiresome & OVER-done at times).

  2. Susan Pola

    Sounds fun. Wonder if they will explain the difference between a Harlot and Courtesan? Or if will have one ‘house’ be less intelligent? Or will it be soap opera-ish. Also note to self. Download Hulu.

    Also can’t wait for this Sunday 15th as Victoria starts. Team Victoria: choose your best method of disposing of Sir John Conroy. Xover methods are okay. (Ex Drogon earring him GoT meets Victoria)

  3. Bronwyn Benson

    I was looking forward to this since I’d heard about it, but it appears the creators have used an historian’s work without working with her or giving credit or anything. And that really upsets me. :/ :( I’m conflicted because I’m still really interested.


    • Trystan L. Bass

      Interesting! And certainly not the first time an idea has been cribbed or poached. But it’s not like you can copyright history either. The source material, Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies has been in the public domain for ages (check Google Books), & in interviews, the producers do sound like they’ve done a bit of research — like getting a wide variety of historical synonyms for sex acts ‘to get around modern censors.’ At worst, maybe they read her book, got inspired, & went with it on their own? They’re writing fiction, she wrote non-fiction. We’ll see on-screen :)

  4. Peggy Elizabeth

    It always amuses me when Hogarth is mentioned, as my place of work holds one of, I beleive, two complete collections of his work & we just think of it as the place were we eat lunch 4 days a week & grab a drink with friends coming to see a show.
    Our costume designer has used it as inspiration & one of these days, I’ll look at them more closely, but it feels a bit like examining the wall paper!