Season 2 of Harlots maintains an impressive run for this excellent series
“You let women do this to you?”
I loved the first series of Harlots when I finally got round to catching up with it recently, so I was keen not to let too pass to tackle Series 2. Inspired by Hallie Rubenhold’s The Covent Garden Ladies, creators Alison Newman and Moira Buffini have done a marvellous job of conjuring and maintaining a richly detailed world that puts women’s experiences front and centre.
The heart of the show has been the burning rivalry between competing madams Lydia Quigley and Margaret Wells, and Lesley Manville and Samantha Morton remain a titanic force as they do battle with each other while simultaneously battling a corrupt patriarchy that would abuse them and their power for a guinea a time. And with its new additions, this second series widens out that focus to incorporate the experiences of other women.
Sheila Atim’s Limehouse Nell (and Eric Kofi Abrefa’s Noah) teams up with Pippa Bennett-Warner’s Harriet to give contemporary women of colour a voice (supported by an excellent Rosalind Eleazor). And the introduction of Liv Tyler’s Lady Isabella adds the fascinating example of an ostensibly wealthy woman but one with zero independence as she has no access to her inheritance save through her nefarious brother.
Throw in the numerous offspring of Lydia and Margaret, particularly Jessica Brown Findlay’s Charlotte, and these eight episodes make for a compelling exploration of the way women excavated a place for themselves underneath the strictures of a hypocritical society and crucially, supported each other there. It’s something reflected the predominantly female writing and directing teams used here, never exploiting their cast but showing their various strengths.