Some of the UK's most talented female actresses will unite to star in a new brothel-based television drama, Harlots. ITV and Hulu announced the ongoing eight-part series which will star the acclaimed Samantha Morton (The Last Panther, Minority Report, Fantastic Beats), Lesley Manville (Mum, River, Maleficent) and Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey, The Outcast).
The show, set to air on ITV Encore in the UK and stream exclusively in the US on Hulu, will be set in 18th century Georgian London, and is a powerful family drama offering a new perspective on the city's most valuable commercial activity – sex.
It is based on the stories of real women (double bonus points) and follows Margaret Wells (Morton) and her daughters as she juggles her contrasting life roles as a mother and brothel owner. Her business comes under attack from her arch-nemesis and fellow madam, Lydia Quigley (Manville), who has a ruthless streak. But two can play at that game, as Margaret fights back, even if it means putting her family's safety at risk. Things are bound to get ugly.
Brown Findley stars as Charlotte, Margaret's eldest daughter and the city's most coveted courtesan – but we see her grapple with her position in both society and her immediate family as the series unravels.
Harlots is written by the critically acclaimed playwright and screenwriter, Moira Buffini (Jane Eyre, Tamara Drewe) and will begin filming this June in London and will be directed by Coky Giedroyc (Penny Dreadful, What Remains) and China Moo-Young (Thirteen, Humans).
Executive producer Alison Owen commented: "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."
Executive producer Debra Hayward added: "Moira and Alison's writing doesn't pull any punches when it comes to sex and violence, but it's the juxtaposition of these things and the domesticity of the 'houses' that makes Harlots so compelling."
Excited about the cast and production plans, Maria Kyriacou, President of International for ITV Studios, said: "Written and produced by an award-winning creative team with an all-star cast, Harlots offers a unique perspective of life on the streets of 1760s London with fast-moving and action-packed storylines and strong lead characters. This is a world class drama."