The LGBT love story on Harlots offers a bright spot in season 2’s darkness


One of the most unexpectedly sweet elements of Harlots season 2 is the charming love story between two very different sorts of women.

It might surprise some viewers to discover that Hulu’s Harlots isn’t just a show about sex workers, it’s honestly concerned with so much more than that. The series delves into issues of class and race, jealousy and competition, with a heaping dose of complicated family dynamics on top.

However, perhaps its most unexpected story is one that has almost nothing to do with sex work or even with sex specifically. It’s a love story between two women: harlot Violet Cross and preacher’s daughter Amelia Scanwell.

If this sounds like it’s the premise of a Netflix rom-com, that’s because it sort of is. These women have little in common on paper, but find themselves drawn to one another over a series of small, thoughtful interactions.

Amelia and Violet’s relationship is not just the only overtly LGBT love story in Harlots. It’s also one of the only true romances on the show. In season 1, Charlotte and her “keeper” George’s relationship is a constantly negotiated power structure that ends in rape and humiliation. And while her attraction to male sex worker Daniel is indeed sweet, their story is desperate and ends sadly.

Elsewhere, Margaret and Will’s relationship is clearly a solid partnership. And though they have their fair share of problems, they’re the sort of couple who’ve been together for long enough that we simply believe that they love each other, without needing to see it in great detail. There are relationships of convenience or advantage or transaction, of course. This is a story about brothels, after all. But few that even qualify as real love.

This is why Amelia and Violet’s relationship feels so shocking. Not because they’re women who turn out to be gay. But because their feelings for one another are so simple and genuine. We don’t just get to watch the two women fall in love with one another. We get to see their relationship change Amelia’s life. (Not to mention expand her worldview.)

As the daughter of a former harlot-turned-religious-zealot who’s dedicated her life to eradicating the brothels from London’s streets, it takes Amelia some time to become comfortable with Violet herself. Not to mention her lifestyle and their burgeoning feelings for one another. We see the two have dinner and attend a party together. We watch Amelia struggle with the truth of her attraction and the stress of being pulled between directions between her heart and her faith. She even acquiesces to blackmail just to keep a clandestine kiss secret. As lesbian love stories in 18th century England go, this seems pretty realistic, actually.

There’s something very powerful in the idea that this is the story given to Harlots’ interracial LGBT couple. You’d expect it to go to someone like Lucy Wells, a straight white woman who seems pretty much created for a story about forbidden love. This thoughtfulness is likely due to the fact that Harlots is largely staffed by women in major creative roles behind the scenes. (And it certainly bodes well for the rest of the season.)

As Season 2 opens, Violet finds her future in danger. Arrested for what is basically petty theft, she faces seven years transportation to America. Her salvation comes in the form of Amelia, who runs herself ragged to save her gal pal. She uses her unique religious credibility to sell that same judge on the potential goodness in Violet’s soul, and even manages to convince him that he should put Violet to work as a maid in his own household. (Which, given how completely dissimilar these two are, things should go…great?)

Amelia’s dedication to keeping Violet on English shores is admirable and her concern for her friend/girlfriend is incredibly sweet. But on some level, Violet also seems to resent her interference, insisting that she doesn’t need the help and likening her new work situation to slavery. This seems as though it will certainly provide an ongoing point of tension between the two this season, and that may be a little bit of an overreaction. (We sincerely doubt Violet would have ever wanted to go to America for any reason.)

Yet, Amelia seems more sure of herself during the season’s first two episodes than she did in all of season 1, clearly fighting for her relationship and not backing down from her feelings for Violet. Where will these two go from here? We can’t tell for sure just now. After all, it’s clearly dangerous times in their particular part of London with murders and riots going on.

Next: Harlots season 2 premiere review: Episodes 1 and 2

Although, Amelia and Violet’s story is an oasis of sweetness in the midst of all the muck. Let’s hope they can find some happiness. At least for a little while. Harlots continues with new episodes every Wednesday, streaming on Hulu.