jessica morton

HARLOTS & why y’all should please give it a go

Y’all, I am LOVIN this show so far. I’ve just binged what’s on Hulu at this point (episodes 1 – 3) and OHHH, it’s got so much fun and so many feels!!! If you like female-driven narratives, the 18th century, delightful costumes, a great cast (many of whom you might recognize from other shows), and opulent splendor mixed in with gritty squalor, you might just find that you love it, too. Let me share with you but a few of the delights it has in store:

First and foremost, it’s about, and from the perspective of, women. 

Almost the entire main cast is female, and the entire show is just about WOMEN – of all ages and stripes – and their struggle to find/maintain/balance their independence, security, and happiness. And yes, the main conflict involves women pitted against one other, but there’s also so much of women SUPPORTING one another and CARING about one another and LAUGHING and MOURNING and just being HUMANS. Eating, drinking, dancing, sweating, farting, hugging, crying, bitching, whining, hurting, comforting, teasing, yearning, complicated humans.

It’s also created, written, and directed by women, and I do think that’s informed how it handles the characters & narrative. Not gonna lie; when I first heard about this show, all I could think of was how gross this premise could be in the wrong hands (male or female). I worried that it would be trashy and exploitative and superficial. But it’s not. Even sensitive material – implied/mentioned sexual assault – is handled deftly and compassionately, focusing always on the victim’s trauma/well-being rather than on any “shock value” attached to the (off-screen) act itself. The sex workers may be objectified and demonized by some other characters, but they are never treated that way by the narrative itself.

And the harlots are all so interesting! Even the background ones have distinct personalities (and a surprising amount of sexual tension with the local moralizer’s daughter). The Wells ladies – mama and daughters, pictured above – are my particular faves.

Other favorite characters include Will North, gentle brothel dad and the only good man in London…

Nancy Birch, who dresses like a highwayman, wields a sick-ass whip, and pushes me a little closer to 6 on the Kinsey scale every time I see her jawline…

And Thomas Haxby, The Saltiest Man On Earth.

“I don’t think you’re a dog at all, Mr. Haxby,” one character summarizes aptly: I think you’re a bitch.” 

He’s such a scheming little viper and I LOVE IT.

Naturally, given the subject matter, there’s a good amount of female nudity. But if your tastes run to more masculine delights, don’t worry – the boys know how to put on a show, too!

Even the title sequence has wormed its way into my heart, by virtue of appealing to my appreciation for three of life’s greatest gifts: bold typography, old-timey engravings, and butts.

Not to mention that – as you can probably tell from these caps – Harlots avoids the overly dark and muted palette that too many period dramas feel is necessary in order to telegraph to the audience that we are looking back through The Sepia Mists of Time. Costumes and sets alike are colorful and fun. Garish, sometimes, in that late-18th-century way – but if, like me, you have a certain fondness for men wearing powder and rouge, that’s not a bad thing at all!

So if a grimy-yet-gorgeous show about ladies trying to carve out their fair share in life sounds like your cup of tea, give it a try. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season leads.
Hulu's 'Harlots' challenges the typical TV depiction of prostitutes as nameless sidekicks or props
From the new Hulu series 'Harlots' to 'Game of Thrones,' 'The Knick,' 'Emerald City' and more, brothels have always been a TV staple
By Lorraine Ali

Faceless as they are, television’s ladies for hire have certainly multiplied. If you were to judge the female population based off their representation in the last decade’s programming alone, it would appear more like 4 out of 5 women sell sex for money, and they all happen to look like swimsuit models — just without the swimsuit.

You’ll find them in, to name just a few, “The Girlfriend Experience,” “Emerald City,” “Billions,” “Anger Management,” “Goliath,” “The Knick,” “Taboo,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Ripper Street,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “True Detective,” “Training Day,” “Ray Donovan,” “House of Cards,” “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” “Hawaii Five-0” and the various flavors of “Law & Order,” “CSI” and “NCIS.” Remember the HBO drinking game — take a shot every time they show a scene in the whorehouse or strip club? Audiences are still drunk.

And viewed through the male gaze of the hero, as they almost always are, the working women of TV are a fail-safe plot device. They’re the hooker with a heart of gold that he hopelessly falls for, the imperiled hooker he saves, the hooker he brazenly uses, the dead hooker who’s a clue in the case he must solve. They’re the perfect backdrop to help define his dilemma, and require almost no setup when it comes to staging those ubiquitous, hot sex scenes in unlikely places. And that’s when they are afforded the dignity of being a plot device as opposed to mere titillating window dressing.

But with “Harlots,” television’s favorite wallpaper now has its own show.

The Hulu series, which premieres Wednesday, doesn’t just visit the brothel, it lives there among the women of London’s 18th century sex trade. It’s their perspective that drives the narrative and, it turns out, prostitution looks a lot different through the eyes of a woman in the business. (A British co-production, the show airs two days earlier on ITV.)

“Harlots” is a frank depiction of women forced into the profession by poverty, class or birth, but not an entirely desperate one. The sex scenes here are neither titillating nor horrifying, gratuitously explicit or unnecessarily judgmental. They are simply a function of the job.

Bodices aren’t ripped in passion, but rather skirts lifted for the sake of practicality and time. The quickies in an alley are just that, quickies, and it’s onto the next John … or maybe a lunch break.

The women’s lives beyond these paid transactions is where the real story is.

The Wells family is building a small empire off their hard work. Margaret (Samantha Morton) owns and runs a brothel in a hardscrabble section of the city. She was born into this life: Her own mother sold her at age 10 for a pair of shoes. But she’s made the best of the hand she was dealt, and unlike most of the women in 1700s London, she is a small business owner. Now Margaret is pimping out her own daughters, Lucy (Eloise Smyth) and Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay).

Her appalling choice is not without guilt, but whatever maternal instincts she has are countered by her goal to raise enough money to buy a home in the upscale neighborhood of Soho.

“Money is a woman’s only power in this world,” says Margaret. “This city’s made of our flesh, every beam, every brick. We’ll have our piece of it.”

There is competition, however. Formidable madam Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville), who runs a classier crosstown bordello in a more respectable part of London, is intent on destroying Margaret’s business. Their brilliant and ruthless tactics to undermine each other rival that of the competing agencies of “Mad Men.”

The eight-part series was influenced by “Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies,” a directory to London whoring written by patrons and pimps in the 1700s. The guide, published for nearly 40 years, was like a Yelp for sex trade customers that listed the specialties, talents and physical attributes of prostitutes in the highly trafficked area.

Created by Moira Buffini and Alison Newman, the show’s team of producers, directors and writers is largely female, which partially explains why “Harlots” is a fresh look at an age-old profession — and television trope.

The casting of Brown Findlay (formerly the feisty Lady Sybil of “Downton Abbey”) as the steely-eyed, calculating survivor Charlotte is a statement in itself. She moves among the powdered-wig upper crust with the confidence of a professional woman, which in contrast to the limited roles for ladies of that era, is empowering.

But “Harlots” is not a feminist proclamation that recasts the sex trade as something noble. It’s a series in which the prostitutes are treated by the show’s writers with the same levels of humanity and importance as the men who’ve historically used and defined them. Here, the Johns play a supporting role to the show’s real stars: complex, shrewd and conflicted women who, just like their customers, have ambitions and goals.


Harlots (2017)

Set against the backdrop of 18th century Georgian London, Harlots is a powerful family drama offering a brand new take on the city’s most valuable commercial activity – sex. Based on the stories of real women, the series follows Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) and her daughters, as she struggles to reconcile her roles as mother and brothel owner. When her business comes under attack from Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville), a rival madam with a ruthless streak, Margaret will fight back, even if it means putting her family at risk. Jessica Brown Findlay stars as Charlotte, Margaret’s eldest daughter and the city’s most coveted courtesan who begins to grapple with her position in both society and her immediate family.

Directed by:   Coky Giedroyc 

Starring:   Samantha Morton, Jessica Brown Findlay, Lesley Manville, Eloise Smyth

Release date:   March 29, 2017


— Lord Fallon’s a real prospect for Lucy.
— I need one too, Ma. I’ve got to get away from Sir George.

cordeliadrusila  asked:

Hi Dhaaruni ! i hope i do not seem invasive but would u know any good novels or fiction of any media which feature a female antihero, a female villain/anti-villain or at least a morally ambiguous female character? i want her to be unapologetically, compellingly, deeply flawed and human, coz i only know my queen, katherine from TVD and her downfall is pathetic, so unfair ... and one of my friend tell me that you are the brightest when it comes to literature and unlikeable female characters^^

Hey! Not invasive at all and thanks for writing in and to your friend for the compliment. 

I’ll split up my recs into Classics and Contemporary Adult and Young Adult novels, just to make the list less overwhelming since I have quite a few that I’ve been meaning to recommend especially with the end of the year coming. They all include diverse and multifaceted female characters or people (since I’m including biographies and memoirs) who have long been deemed unlikable but who drive the novels and their lives in unique ways and are genuinely memorable and important in the scope of literature as a whole.

Classic Books:

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • Vanity Fair by William Mackepeace Thackeray 
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert 
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (Not as much about the heroine herself but it’s such an epic love story I had to include it because the main couple is the epitome of “Made for each other” in all their awfulness)
  • Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Contemporary Books (Adult):

  • Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue 
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
  • Wasted by Marya Hornbacher (a memoir about anorexia and bulimia with a serious trigger warning but the prime of unlikable and one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time)
  • Green Girl by Kate Zambreno 
  • An Inconvenient Wife by Megan Chance 
  • Sex and the City by Candice Bushnell
  • Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • The Life and Death of Sophia Stark by Anna North 
  • Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
  • Angelina by Andrew Morton (a biography of Angelina Jolie and I completely recommend it because we forget in 2015 where she came from or what she was like, but she was definitely very realistic. Personally, I found her highly relatable)
  • The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
  • Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
  • No Lifeguard on Duty by Janice Dickinson 
  • Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny (my absolute favorite nonfiction book on feminism and life and eating disorders and the like. It’s not exactly about an unlikable heroine but it’s about the things that have long deemed women unlikable and it’s a crucial book in my development)
  • Everything by Elena Ferrante to be honest. I haven’t read too much of her, but I read My Brilliant Friend which was great and I’m going to read her other works

Contemporary Books (Young Adult):

  • Liar by Justine Larbalestier
  • Pointe by Brandy Colbert
  • Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver
  • All the Rage by Courtney Summers 
  • Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers 
  • Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers 
  • Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton
  • Beauty Queens by Libba Bray 
  • Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
  • Cartwheel by Jennifer Dubois
  • We Were Liars by e. Lockhart
  • Dare Me by Megan Abbott
  • The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
  • Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Ziegasar (of course) 

I hope this list helps you out! And of course, I’m hugely plugging it, for a tv antiheroine, watch Jessica Jones. You won’t regret it. Thanks for writing in!