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Harlots was ahead of its time in terms of female empowerment, says star Lesley Manville

Series star and Oscar nominee has praised the period drama's predominantly female cast and crew.

Harlots, Lesley Manville
BBC Pictures
Published: Tuesday, 28th July 2020 at 12:01 am

Three years may have passed since the period drama Harlots first premiered, but series star Lesley Manville believes that the show was "really ahead of the game" when it came to both on and off-screen female empowerment.


In the show Manville (Mum, The Crown) plays Lydia Quigley, a ruthless brothel madam living in 18th-century London, and whose rivalry with another brothel owner, played by Samantha Morton, drives much of the plot.

Speaking to and other press, Manville was asked whether she thought the representation of the on-screen female characters would be any different if Harlots had been first commissioned this year.

"No, I actually think Harlots was really ahead of the game," she said. "For all three series we had female producers, female directors exclusively, and because of the - it's an eight episode series [so] for each series we would have three different directors. Always women directors, [a] predominantly female cast as you know."

She continued, "And the stories definitely reflect[ed] a subject and a period where you could portray women in a far different position - pardon the pun - but I think it's more about how empowered these women are, and how they are brilliantly taking their own lives into control.

"It was reflected absolutely in production, it was absolutely brilliant that we had this pretty much exclusively [female] top team level and heads of department."

Harlots - originally broadcast by ITV Encore - has now found a broadcasting home on BBC Two, with series one and two (there are three in total) airing back to back.

The ensemble cast, including Manville and Morton, also features Jessica Brown Findlay, best-known for playing Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey. In Harlots, she plays a popular sex worker who becomes a London celebrity.

Harlots will air on BBC Two from Wednesday 5th August at 9pm, starting with a double-bill. Series one and two will air back-to-back.


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