|Based on||The Covent Garden Ladies|
by Hallie Rubenhold
|Country of origin|
|No. of series||3|
|No. of episodes||24|
|Production locations||London, England, Hertfordshire, England|
|Running time||44–50 minutes|
|Production company||Monumental Pictures|
|Original release||27 March 2017 –|
28 August 2019
Harlots is a British-American period drama television series created by Alison Newman and Moira Buffini and inspired by The Covent Garden Ladies by British historian Hallie Rubenhold. The series focuses on Margaret Wells, who runs a brothel in 18th-century London and struggles to secure a better future for her daughters in an unpredictable environment.
The series premiered on 27 March 2017 on ITV Encore in the United Kingdom, and on 29 March 2017 on Hulu in the United States. It was subsequently renewed for a second series that premiered on 11 July 2018 in the United States, and on 14 February 2019 in the UK via on-demand service StarzPlay, to which it moved after ITV Encore closed. On September 24, 2018, Harlots was renewed for a third season, which premiered in the United States on July 10, 2019, and in the UK the following day. On June 10, 2020, it was reported that Hulu had cancelled the series after three seasons. After this, the BBC acquired the UK rights to broadcast all three series, with the first two episodes of the first season aired on BBC Two on 5 August 2020.
In 1760s London, women's opportunities for economic advancement are either through marriage or sex work. The city's brothels are run by canny and determined businesswomen, such as Margaret Wells and Lydia Quigley, but there is a new morality on the rise. Religious evangelists demand the closure of brothels, and police are happy to launch brutal raids.
The show revolves around Wells' determination to improve her life and the lives of those in her "family" by moving her brothel to Greek Street in Soho to serve a wealthier clientele in Georgian society. Her move to Greek Street puts her into direct conflict with a rival madame, Lydia Quigley, for whom she had previously worked. Quigley operates an elite brothel in Golden Square that serves rich, influential people.
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||8||27 March 2017||15 May 2017|
|2||8||11 July 2018||22 August 2018|
|3||8||10 July 2019||28 August 2019|
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||US release date|
|1||1||"Episode 1"||Coky Giedroyc||Moira Buffini||27 March 2017||29 March 2017|
|Brothel owner Margaret Wells plans to move up in the world by taking over a house in Greek Street. Rival brothel owner Lydia Quigley enlists religious crusaders and constables to raid the brothel. After paying a £100 fine, Margaret cannot make the final payment on her new house, so she plans to auction off the virginity of her youngest daughter, Lucy, to the highest bidder, just as she did with her oldest daughter Charlotte. Sir George Howard expects Charlotte to sign a contract to formally become her "keeper," but she refuses to sign; in a fit of jealousy, he successfully bids for Lucy's virginity. Charlotte makes the acquaintance of an aspiring male harlot. Emily Lacey deserts Margaret to work for Lydia.|
|2||2||"Episode 2"||Coky Giedroyc||Moira Buffini||3 April 2017||5 April 2017|
|Margaret discovers one of Lydia's girls, Mary Cooper, on the streets dying of French pox and plans to use her to get revenge against Lydia. On the behest of Justice Cunliffe, Lydia tricks and procures a virgin girl for a secret group of wealthy men referred to as "The Spartans" so they can rape her. Margaret's former lover, plantation and slave owner Nathaniel Lennox, returns from America with his "wife" and two children and agrees to invest in her new house. Sir George leaves his servant, Haxby, to watch over his property, including Charlotte. Lucy's virginity is sold thrice.|
|3||3||"Episode 3"||Coky Giedroyc||Cat Jones||10 April 2017||12 April 2017|
|Margaret's move to the Greek Street house is initially thwarted by a group of thugs hired by Lydia. Nathaniel Lennox dies, which reveals that his marriage is a sham, his wife Harriet's freedom is a lie, and their two children are enslaved by Nathaniel's son from a former marriage. Lucy is hired to spend a few days with the sadistic Lord and Lady Repton at their country estate and finds herself out of her depth. Sir George Howard's wife tries to come to an agreement with Charlotte. Lydia has left the dead body of Mary Cooper as a surprise in Margaret's new house for her to find. Emily Lacey, having earned Lydia's displeasure for her attitude, is starved and later required to service Lydia's most feared and abusive client, Mr. Osborne. Justice Cunliffe is looking for a new, virgin girl for a wealthy client, but Lydia is reluctant to provide one without some assurances.|
|4||4||"Episode 4"||China Moo-Young||Debbie O'Malley||17 April 2017||19 April 2017|
|Margaret's business suffers from Florence Scanwell's endless religious tirades, ordered by Lydia. Charlotte suggests a masquerade party to save her mother's business and goes to The Cocoa Tree seeking potential guests, especially Lord Fallon. Lucy is failing to thrive in her new role and can't attract a keeper; she turns to her sister, Charlotte, for help, but continues to seem out of place. Emily tries to run away and rejoin Margaret's brothel. A rift between Charlotte and Sir George widens due to jealous spite, and he has sex with Lucy. Charlotte retaliates by unexpectedly having sex with Haxby. The 'hellish' bacchanal brings together many unexpected guests and girls. Harriet Lennox, now a maid in Margaret's house, uses her charms on Lord Repton to promote herself to harlot. Charles stands up to his mother and bans Osborne from Lydia's brothel. Amelia Scanwell, befriended by Violet, joins the party for a glimpse of Margaret's brothel. Lydia finds and imprisons another virgin for The Spartans in exchange for one of their names.|
|5||5||"Episode 5"||China Moo-Young||Jane English||24 April 2017||26 April 2017|
|The wildly successful masquerade party leaves Margaret's coffers flush, and she visits Lydia to offer a resentful truce and pay the debts of Marie-Louise, who has deserted Lydia for Margaret's brothel. Beaten and bloodied by Lydia, Emily manages to escape the brothel by drugging Charles with laudanum, but can find nowhere to go. Charlotte is desperate to attract a new keeper, while Sir George's outrageous behaviour escalates to violence and social scandal when Charlotte tries to leave him. Harriet Lennox excels in her new position, but Nathanial's son puts an impossible price on her children that he has inherited. Lydia is in a panic when the only trace of the latest virgin is blood on the door after The Spartans visited. Lord Fallon wishes to be Lucy's keeper, to the delight of Margaret, but his strange aggression alarms Lucy. Violet and Amelia continue to meet. Emily is taken in by Nancy. Lydia refuses to procure more girls when she realises Justice Cunliffe is just a lackey.|
|6||6||"Episode 6"||China Moo-Young||Moira Buffini||1 May 2017||3 May 2017|
|Margaret is faced with an ever mounting tide of problems, and she is left with her finger in the dam to try and stop the flow. Benjamin Lennox demands immediate repayment on the loan his father gave the brothel and plans to leave for Virginia, taking Harriet's children with him. Charlotte has left Sir George, penniless, and wishes for the freedom of America. Lucy refuses to take Lord Fallon as her keeper, without whom they will not have the money to pay Lennox. Lydia is spying the house night and day for signs of Emily Lacey. Fanny is pregnant and too far gone to have an abortion. To spite Charlotte, Sir George appears and demands to be a reluctant Lucy's keeper, paying Margaret handsomely for the privilege and seemingly solving all of their problems. Lucy lashes out and Margaret takes responsibility to keep her daughter safe, putting all of the house occupants in danger. Lydia recaptures Emily after Margaret betrays her whereabouts to gain time to save Lucy. Florence confesses her past as a sex worker to Amelia in an effort to break free from Lydia, to no avail. Lydia is back on board with providing girls for the Spartans, who have grown more bloodthirsty.|
|7||7||"Episode 7"||Jill Robertson||Cat Jones||8 May 2017||10 May 2017|
|Decisions and consequences. Saving one daughter may have condemned the other: Sir George is found murdered and Charlotte and Daniel Marney are arrested in place of the true culprits. Margaret's world starts to crumble as William and Jacob have disappeared, the harlots in her house rebel, and Margaret comes closer than ever to becoming what she despises most. Lydia has captured Emily Lacey with foul intentions in mind. Charles grows disillusioned with his mother and chooses to grow more independent and act behind his mother's back. Charlotte must decide whether to throw Daniel Marney to the wolves to walk free, or trust that he won't betray her in turn for his own freedom. Florence seeks an alliance with Margaret to save Amelia from Lydia's threats. Justice Cunliffe seeks reassurance and a seat at the table from The Spartans behind Lydia's back. Harriet Lennox blackmails Margaret for the money to recover her children before they are taken to America by Benjamin. Lydia discovers where Sir George was murdered. Fanny is about to give birth.|
|8||8||"Episode 8"||Jill Robertson||Moira Buffini and Jane English||15 May 2017||17 May 2017|
|Betrayals and new alliances. Lydia's motivations for saving Charlotte are revealed: she wants Charlotte to abandon her mother and join her house instead. Lady Howard, now free as a widow, sides with Charlotte over Haxby and arranges Daniel's freedom. Justice Cunliffe betrays Lydia for acceptance by The Spartans. They'll take him, on condition he produces a girl who is a virgin. William and Harriet team up to recover her children, and end up doing so. Emily Lacey returns to pair with Charles against his mother and they find a new independence together. Margaret must decide if she'll do the right thing, or take the final step to becoming like Lydia and deliver Amelia to the Spartans to save herself. Lydia pulls off a double cross with an unexpected outcome for Justice Cunliffe, who is murdered by Fallon. Charlotte has decided to disown Margaret and Daniel and remain with Lydia, although she reveals to Daniel that she aims to take down Lydia's house from the inside. Fanny gives birth to a daughter. Lucy remains at her mother's brothel newly wiser.|
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date|
|9||1||"Episode 1"||Coky Giedroyc||Moira Buffini||11 July 2018|
|Charlotte settles into life at Lydia Quigley's house, while secretly plotting against her. Lydia Quigley is put in jail. Margaret kicks Harriet and her children out of her house, as she suspects that Harriet wants to be with William. Margaret and William's marriage continues to crumble in the wake of the murder of George Howard. Kitty is murdered.|
|10||2||"Episode 2"||Coky Giedroyc||Cat Jones||11 July 2018|
|The women all react to Kitty's murder. Charlotte bails Lydia Quigley out of jail. Nancy is arrested and flogged.|
|11||3||"Episode 3"||Coky Giedroyc||Jane English||18 July 2018|
|Lydia Quigley is no longer allowed to conduct her business at Golden Square. Emily Lacey tries to organize with Charles a competing house where she is the head bawd. At a party at Pleasure Gardens, Margaret punches and knocks down Lydia. Lucy walks into the house of Lord Fallon to become his kept woman.|
|12||4||"Episode 4"||Philippa Langdale||Emer Kenny||25 July 2018|
|Quigley is no longer about to run her business but gains a powerful protector in the head justice, whom she has sex with in order to have him approve of her boarding house.|
|13||5||"Episode 5"||Philippa Langdale||Jane English||1 August 2018|
|Charlotte goes along with Quigley, who entraps a poor virgin girl and forces her into a life of sex work, where her first sexual encounter will be sold to the highest bidder. Charlotte tries to save the virgin, and devises a plan whereby Noah Webster will disguise himself as a wealthy businessman, and they will give him enough money to buy her. Then instead of taking her virginity, they will free her. However, Quigley figures out the ruse, throws Noah out, and awards the Marquess of Blayne the "honour" of taking the girl's virginity.|
|14||6||"Episode 6"||Philippa Langdale||Moira Buffini||8 August 2018|
|Rasselas tells Charlotte that Lord Fallon was responsible for the murder of Justice Cunliffe. This is overheard by one of Quigley's girls, who tells both Quigley and Lord Fallon what Rasselas has said. Lord Fallon runs after Rasselas to murder him, but as he is about to stab him, Amelia Scanwell accidentally steps in front of Rasselas, and she is stabbed instead. Isabella reveals to Charlotte that she has a secret, illegitimate child who she sends to a boarding school away from them. Meanwhile, Margaret Wells, in order to protect Lucy from being blackmailed by Lord Fallon, "confesses" that she is the one who murdered Sir George.|
|15||7||"Episode 7"||Jill Robertson||Cat Jones||15 August 2018|
|In a court hearing, Lucy provides an alibi for Lord Fallon, who walks free and has the charges of stabbing Amelia Scanwell dropped. Margaret Wells is scheduled to hang, but in the middle of the execution, Josiah Hunt changes his mind and stops the hanging. Hunt sends Margaret away to America.|
|16||8||"Episode 8"||Jill Robertson||Moira Buffini||22 August 2018|
|William North and Harriet Lennox attempt to search for Margaret Wells' body, but turn up empty handed. They confront Josiah Hunt, who admits that Margaret was not executed, but was instead shipped to America. Quigley is committed to Bedlam by her son. Lord Fallon attempts to finish off a recovering Amelia Scanwell, but is instead captured by Nancy, Charlotte, and Violet. Lord Fallon is later found and rescued by the Marquess of Blayne, but is persuaded to kill himself, leaving a signed confession to murder and the attack on Amelia, so that their secret gentlemen's club can continue.|
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original release date |
|17||1||"Episode 1"||Robin Sheppard||Moira Buffini||July 10, 2019|
|A year after the end of Series Two. New pimps come to town in the form of the Pincher brothers, Isaac (Alfie Allen) and Hal (Ash Hunter), who have also become the new owners of the Scaracen's Head tavern. While Charlotte fights back at the imposition of the Pinchers on London's bawdy houses, Lucy tries to branch out on her own by joining forces with Elizabeth Harvey (Angela Griffin) and her son, Fredo (Aidan Cheng), when they buy Golden Square to establish a molly-house. In Bedlam, Lydia Quigley continues to suffer the abandonment of her family and the experimental treatments of her doctors.|
|18||2||"Episode 2"||Robin Sheppard||Jessica Ruston||July 17, 2019|
|After Isaac Pincher sets fire to Charlotte's house on Greek Street, she and the girls are determined to fight back. Lucy suggests a diversion to Miss Harvey that allows them to put their business on display while allowing Nance to steal the Pincher's money. Lydia makes a friend in Bedlam through the arrival of a young girl, Kate, and the two escape Bedlam.|
|19||3||"Episode 3"||Robin Sheppard||Jane English||July 24, 2019|
|Will North's boxing match is the talk of the town, as Lady Isabella has agreed to host it at her house. Margaret returns to London, now married to Jonas from America. She secretly meets with her family, and encourages them to go back to America with her. Lydia and Kate are tested by Miss May's heartless and stingy nature. At the boxing match, Charlotte Wells is accidentally pushed off the staircase by the Pincher brothers and suffers a horrible fall.|
|20||4||"Episode 4"||Chloë Thomas||Moira Buffini||July 31, 2019|
|Charlotte's situation does not improve, and the magistrate is called in to investigate. Isaac is distraught and begins to unravel. When Kate's evening with the Prince goes south, Lydia sends her to Cherry to learn "vulgarity". At the viewing at Lady Isabella's, many come to pay their respects, but not all are welcome. Lydia finally responds to Miss May's harshness with hate. The gunsmith refuses to allow Emily and the Pinchers to share in his potential investment with Mr. Young. Lydia Quigley sees Margaret through a window and realizes she is still alive.|
|21||5||"Episode 5"||Chloë Thomas||Vivienne Harvey||August 7, 2019|
|Lydia Quigley realizes that Margaret is still alive, and wants to speak with her. The Pincher brothers blackmail Jonas into selling them his land. Isaac convinces Hal to flip that land to another buyer. Quigley convinces the Marquess of Blayne to give Kate another chance with the Prince. Isaac agrees to give money to Emily Lacey for her to leave London, but Emily panics that she might be killed instead, and brings Margaret and Nance along to the meeting. As expected, Isaac tries to get leverage by pulling a gun on them, but during the commotion, Nance pulls out another gun and shoots and kills Isaac after he fires a shot.|
|22||6||"Episode 6"||Chloë Thomas||Jessica Ruston||August 14, 2019|
|Emily, Margaret and Nance all struggle with Isaac's death. Emily is being blackmailed by Rosamund, who saw Isaac's death. Jack is kidnapped. Margaret leaves London, and wants to take Lucy with her, who declines. Hal is devastated by his brother's death, and later confides to Emily that he was the one who killed Charlotte, albeit accidentally.|
|23||7||"Episode 7"||Debs Paterson||Moira Buffini||August 21, 2019|
|Kate becomes the mistress of the Prince. Lucy is thrown into debtor's jail. Lady Isabella kidnaps the Marquess of Blayne's son in order to get some leverage with him.|
|24||8||"Episode 8"||Debs Paterson||Moira Buffini and Jane English||August 28, 2019|
|Anne Pettifer gives up her child to Blayne for money. However, on her way home, she is brutally slashed across the face by one of Blayne's men. North rescues Jack and Harriet from being shipped overseas into slavery. Lady Isabella confides in the Prince about what Blayne did to her, and the Prince terminates Blayne's governorship. Lucy is released from debtor's prison, and has a final confrontation with Blayne and Lydia Quigley at Golden Square.|
On 26 May 2016, it was announced that Hulu and ITV had given the co-production a programme order for a first series consisting of eight episodes. The series was set to be written by Moira Buffini and based upon an original idea by Buffini and Alison Newman. Directors were expected to include Coky Giedroyc and China Moo-Young. Lawrence Till was set as producer, with Alison Owen and Debra Hayward also on board to executive produce alongside Alison Carpenter, Buffini, and Newman. Production companies involved with the series include Monumental Pictures.
On 27 July 2017, it was announced at the annual Television Critics Association summer press tour that the programme had been renewed for a second series. On 23 April 2018, it was announced that the second season would premiere in the United States on 11 July 2018.
On April 12, 2019, it was announced that the third series was set to premiere in the United States on July 10, 2019.
Alongside the initial series order announcement, it was confirmed that the series would star Samantha Morton, Lesley Manville, and Jessica Brown Findlay. On 7 July 2016, it was announced that Eloise Smyth had been cast in a series regular role.
On 16 October 2017, it was announced that Liv Tyler was joining the main cast in series two.
Principal photography for series one was expected to commence in June 2016 in London. The majority of filming took place at Langleybury Mansion, Kings Langley, Hertfordshire. Chiswick House was used to replicate 18th-century London for the series, and additional scenes filmed at Historic Dockyard Chatham.
All three seasons have been received positively by critics. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 94% with an average rating of 7.08/10 based on 48 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "Harlots uses its titillating subject matter to draw the viewer into a deeper drama about the intersection of survival, business, and family." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the season a score of 74 out of 100 based on 17 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews."
The second series holds an approval rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 11 reviews, with an average rating of 7.83/10. The site's critics' consensus reads: "Harlots maintains its lavish grit and holds an 18th-century mirror up to our contemporary world of troubling gender-based suffering."
The third series holds an approval rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 10 reviews, with an average rating of 7.31/10. The site's critics' consensus reads: "Delightfully uncomfortable, Harlots continues to push boundaries, but never at the expense of its deliciously campy fun." Metacritic reports a score of 77 out of 100 based on 4 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".