Feisty, feminist period drama Harlots returns to Hulu this week, and Culturess got the chance to chat with co-creator Moira Buffini about what’s coming in season 3.
Hulu’s Harlots, one of the best period dramas – no, scratch that, television dramas period – is roaring back to Hulu this week with a third season that promises big changes in the world of Georgian London.
The season 2 finale saw Head Bawd in Charge Margaret Wells transported to America after being convicted of murder and her years-long nemesis Lydia Quigley committed to Bedlam by her own son. Given that their rivalry was the primary engine that drove much of Harlots’ story, things will doubtlessly look a bit different as the series’ returns.
Eldest Wells daughter Charlotte has stepped into the power void left behind by her mother, as many figures attempt to fill the space left behind by Lydia, including Harriet, Emily Lacey, Ann Pettifer and even Charles Quigley himself.
There are so many possibilities for where season 3 could go in the wake of all this that it’s hard to know where to even start speculating. So we decided to go right to the source, and ask Harlots co-creator and executive producer Moira Buffini to share some information with us about Harlots’ return and what kinds of surprises season 3 might have in store for us. And it turns out there’s kind of a lot.
First of all, some significant time has passed since the end of season 2.
“A year has passed since Harlots 2,” Buffini told us. This time jump is ostensibly to allow our favorite characters to fully settle into a world without Margaret and Lydia running things.
“It’s been great allowing our characters time to change, time to come to terms with the events of seasons 1 and 2,” she explained. “Charlotte has taken on Margaret’s role and her responsibilities. She has grown up a lot.”
Buffini indicates Charlotte may have found some sort of stability with aristocrat Lady Isabella Fitzwilliam – cheers, LadyHarlot shippers! – but that her new stable, adult life may not last for long.
“We wanted to pick up her relationship with Lady Fitz – which has been a positive thing in both of their lives,” she said. “But we know there is a touchstone of restlessness in Charlotte. She’s never happy when things are staying still. So when trouble finds her, in the form of Isaac Pincher, a tavern pimp with Mafia tactics, she is glad to lead the resistance.”
The Pincher brothers arrive in London at the start of season 3, giving Harlots viewers our first look at the world beyond female-fronted sex trade businesses. And these sorts of men weren’t at all uncommon in the period, even if they do feel a bit out of place in the world of Harlots we know.
“We find that the best stories come from facts, Buffini said, pointing out the historical accuracy of male pimps in the period. “The tavern pimps of Covent Garden were notorious. So far we have told the stories of female bawds, but there were many male pimps and some of them were notoriously powerful.”
Game of Thrones star Alfie Allen plays Isaac Pincher, the more bold and reckless brother, particularly when compared to his more strategic sibling Hal, who’s played by Ash Hunter. Thanks to Isaac, the two immediately run afoul of Charlotte and her girls, and conflict develops between the two groups.
But Buffini seems determined to make the Pincer brothers into something more than simply villains for our favorites to face off against.
“We wanted to find a way of characterizing these guys in a complex way. So meet the Pinchers; half-brothers, ex-soldiers, on the make,” she said. “They give our women a different kind of antagonist, one from the same social class.”
But male pimps aren’t the new kinds of stories that season 3 aims to tell.
Harlots, already recognized for its large, diverse cast and general dedication to tackling the stories of LGBT and other marginalized folks, is pushing the envelope even further this year. Season 3 will also introduce a “Molly house,” a brothel geared at homosexual men, thanks to the arrival of two new characters whose presence will further shake up the show. (And add the threat of legal jeopardy in entirely new ways.)
Much like the inclusion of male pimps, molly houses are also based in historical fact.
“The Molly houses are equally fascinating,” Buffini explained. “[At the time,] homosexuality was completely illegal. Men were hanged for sodomy and imprisoned for ’sodomitical intent,’ yet love, in any society, will always find a way to express itself. “
“London’s ‘Molly houses’ thrived in this era and many of them were run by women. So, enter Elizabeth Harvey and her adopted son Fredo. They go from town to town engaged in the very risky business of providing gay men with a safe place to be.”
Buffini is one of many women in charge behind the scenes at Harlots, which is that rare series that is completely written and produced by women. The presence of so many female creatives makes an obvious difference in both the direction and quality of the show, as it seems unlikely that we’d get such a thoughtful, not at all lurid treatment of the concept of sex work from a team dominated by men.
(Just look at Game of Thrones’ conception of what Petyr Baelish’s brothels were like, is all I’m saying.)
And according to Buffini, the situation sounds like pretty much a dream for everyone involved.
“It’s great working with so many clever, funny, energetic and resilient women,” she said. “I can’t generalize about how it’s different from working in a room full of men, but I have certainly observed that we collaborate rather than compete. “
“Some of our male actors have talked very positively about how different the atmosphere on set is, too,” Buffini continued. “That’s largely due to the goodwill and care of our directors and producers. We really try to make sure that the hard work we all do is also enjoyable and that everyone is treated with respect.”
Harlots season 3 begins streaming on Hulu on July 10.