Harlots - Jessica Brown Findlay Interview

Jessica Brown Findlay says her role as prostitute Charlotte Wells in the new drama Harlots has never been more ‘relevant’.  

Jessica Brown Findlay says her role as prostitute Charlotte Wells in the new drama Harlots has never been more ‘relevant’.

Get ready folks!! In the new TV series Harlots you will see Jessica Brown Findlay like you've never seen her before! 

The British actress, known best for her role as Lady Sybil Crawley in the popular TV series Downton Abbey was excited when she first saw the script for Harlots because it gave her the opportunity to play a woman that is so far removed from her real life and what she has done before. 

Harlots is a British period drama television series which focuses on Margaret Wells, who runs a brothel in 18th century England who struggles to raise her daughters in a chaotic household. The series is inspired by "The Covent Garden Ladies" by Hallie Rubenhold.

Brown Findlay plays Charlotte Wells - Margaret's oldest daughter who not only works at her mother's brothel but is also the  lover of Sir George Howard ( a married man) whom she views as a path to a better life.

Jessica Brown Findlay and Samantha Morton in, Harlots

Jessica Brown Findlay and Samantha Morton in, Harlots

The series takes us to London in 1763 where one in five women makes a living selling sex. Women's opportunity for economic advancement is to marry well or be a prostitute. The city’s brothels are run by canny, cruel businesswomen such as Margaret Wells(played Samantha Morton) and Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville). The prostitutes are reviewed in Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies, which some of the women are seen reading in the premiere episode.

But there is a new morality in the air as religious crusaders demand the closure of brothels, and the constables are only too happy to launch brutal raids.

Episodes revolve round Mrs Wells' determination to improve her life and fortune by moving her brothel to Greek Street in Soho and serve a better class of Georgian society. To finance the move, after receiving a £100 fine, she auctions off the virginity of her younger daughter, Lucy, as she had done before with her older daughter, Charlotte, when she was twelve years old. Charlotte is the lover of the besotted Sir George Howard, who wants her to sign a contract with him that makes him her "keeper."

Margaret's move to Greek Street puts her into conflict with Lydia Quigley, for whom she had previously worked as a prostitute. Lydia Quigley operates a high class brothel in Golden Square, serving rich highly influential people in the judiciary and police, and blackmails a religious reformer into opposing Margaret.

The ‘powerful family drama’ is different from other dramas of the period because it explores life from a ‘harlot’s point of view’ which is something you don't ever get to see and was one of the main things that attracted Brown Findlay to the project. 

It’s a family – the Wells women are working and they’re surviving and there’s rivalry among boarding houses and it’s terrifying,’ Brown Findlay told me during our recent interview.

She continued, 'You had the ears of men who would control the city, who would come to the boarding houses and use their service and then pass laws the next day to make it more difficult for these women to do what these men wanted a service of.

‘It’s that world of politics and industry and business and sex and all mashed into one. It’s looking at it from all angles, looking at all types of relationships, and I love it for that.’


The series premiered on 27 March 2017 on in the U.K. and on 29 March 2017 on Hulu in the U.S. and can be seen in Canada on Super Channel. 

You can watch my entire interview with the lovely and talented Jessica Brown Findlay below where we chatted about Harlots and corsets, her fond memories of Downton Abbey and performing on the the London stage as Ophelia opposite Andrew Scott in, Hamlet