12 Days of Lesley Manville – 8: Harlots (Series 3)

Largely (and unfairly) overlooked, the third and final season of Harlots brings the series to a fitting conclusion

“You beggarly slut”

Over a couple of strong series, Harlots really impressed me but being tucked away on Hulu meant it was never really going to break through. A little time on iPlayer raised its profile somewhat but it’s no longer there and so it languishes now – indeed, it has taken me a few years to get round to finishing watching so read into that what you will. It’s all a shame though as the show, created by Alison Newman and Moira Buffini from Hallie Rubenhold’s book The Covent Garden Ladies, is a corker.

Series 2 finished boldly with its co-leads alternately exiled to the US presumed hanged, and committed to Bedlam. Samantha Morton’s Margaret Wells thus has a limited role in this series but Lesley Manville’s Lydia Quigley seizes the chance to play asylum patient with both hands and delivers a beautifully fruity performance of anger, frustration and perhaps just a little madness. It is perhaps little surprise that she’s not there too long but the Soho she returns to is much changed.

Chief among those changes is the arrival of Angela Griffin’s Elizabeth Harvey who inveigles her way into Quigley’s Golden Square brothel to turn it into a molly-house with the help of Margaret’s daughter Lucy, plus some new pimps Isaac and Hal Pincher (Alfie Allen and Ash Hunter) shaking up the established order. Jessica Brown Findlay’s Charlotte, who has stepped into her mother’s shoes (another of Margaret’s brood), particularly bristles at this but her increasingly personal connection to Isaac proves more consequential.

It’s all soapily melodramatic and lavishly designed and utterly delightful to behold. Maintaining a high quality of casting at all levels certainly helps – this series also boasts Anna Calder-Marshall, John Lynch and Nicholas Burns along with returnees Danny Sapani, Pippa Bennett-Warner and a brilliant Kate Fleetwood to name but a few. And as vengeful manipulations cut across all strata of Georgian society, right up to the Royal Family, the entertainment value never lets up.

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