Jessica Brown Findlay cast in new 18th-century brothel drama Harlots


Samantha Morton, Lesley Manville and Jessica Brown Findlay will star in a new brothel-based period drama titled Harlots.

The drama will focus on Georgian London's most valuable commercial activity - sex - and is set to reveal the hidden history of the city's brothels.

Samantha Morton in Harlots
Samantha Morton in Harlots (Yui Mok/PA)

Based on the stories of real women, the series will follow madam Margaret Wells (Samantha) and her daughters.

When her business comes under attack from Lydia Quigley (Lesley), rival brothel owner Margaret fights back.

But her eldest daughter Charlotte - played by Downton Abbey actress Jessica - is the city's most coveted courtesan. The fallout causes her to struggle with her position in society and her family.

Lesley Manville stars as a rival brothel owner
Lesley Manville stars as a rival brothel owner (Ian West/PA)

Executive producer Alison Owen said: "In 1760s London there were brothels on every corner run by women who were both enterprising and tenacious.

"History has largely ignored them, but their stories are in turn outrageous, brutal, humorous and real."

Fellow executive producer Debra Hayward added: "Moira and Alison's writing doesn't pull any punches when it comes to sex and violence, but it's the juxtaposition of these things and the domesticity of the 'houses' that makes Harlots so compelling."

Jessica Brown Findlay as Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey
Jessica Brown Findlay as Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey (PBS/Carnival Film & Television/AP)

The eight-part drama series, which will begin filming in London in June, is by Monumental Pictures and will air on ITV and US streaming service Hulu.

It was written by playwright and screenwriter Moira Buffini, based upon an idea she developed with Alison Newman, and will be directed by Coky Giedroyc and China Moo-Young.

ITV controller of drama Victoria Fea said: "Harlots is an exploration of family, power and brutal economics in a vibrant booming world full of colour and noise.

"We're delighted to be commissioning the series for ITV Encore. Moira and Alison's scripts are shocking, fascinating and compelling."