Is BBC drama Harlots based on a true story?

13 August 2020, 16:22

Harlots is currently airing on BBC Two - we take a look back at the history of the series.

Harlots - which originally aired on ITV Encore in 2017 - is currently being replayed in its new home of BBC Two.

Two episodes of the British-American drama will be broadcast each week, with the first two showing on August 5.

It tells the story of Margaret Wells, played by Samantha Morton, who owns a brothel in 18th Century Georgian London, and her rivalry with fellow brothel-owner Lydia Quigley, played by Lesley Manville.

With many viewers watching the show for the first time, we take a look back at its history.

Read more: How many seasons and episodes of Harlots are there?

Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville star in Harlots
Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville star in Harlots. Picture: BBC Two

Is Harlots based on a true story?

While Harlots is not based on a specific real-life story, it does take inspiration from Georgian culture and society.

The series was inspired by an infamous pocketbook called 'Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies', which was published annually between 1757 and 1975.

The book listed the prostitutes who worked around the Covent Garden area, as well as their specialisms.

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Sex work was big business for women at that time, and gave the opportunity to earn more than they would working in other professions, such as maids.

Show creator Moira Buffini previously said of the series: "Even if you are doing a period drama, the story has to be about now.

"You are really writing for a contemporary audience, and we are looking at our world and our relationships with each other through the prism of history."

Two episodes of Harlots are on each Wednesday on BBC Two
Two episodes of Harlots are on each Wednesday on BBC Two. Picture: BBC Two

What is Harlots about?

The official synopsis for the first episode reads: "Brothel owner Margaret Wells [played by Samantha Morton] is on the threshold of moving into a more up-market house in Soho when her premises are raided by the nightwatchmen.

"Fined for keeping an obscene and bawdy house and unable to make the final payment for her new establishment, she is forced to utilise her greatest asset - her daughter Lucy [Eloise Smyth].

"Meanwhile, her rival Lydia Quigley [Lesley Manville] is determined that Margaret's grand plans are thwarted."

How can I watch Harlots on BBC Two?

Two episodes of Harlots are on every Wednesday from 9pm.

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