Harlots’ Lesley Manville hits back at actresses being compared to prostitutes and talks STI checks on racy BBC drama

HARLOTS star Lesley Manville hit back at actresses being compared to prostitutes as she discussed the racy BBC drama shedding light on the 18th Century sex trade.

The BBC series is delivered from the female point of view – something that the actress says wasn't historically common on screen.

Lesley, who played Lydia Quigley in the series that first aired on Hulu, told The Sun's TV Mag: "The story is investing in the women and the stories and their lives and characters – you see the characters talking about their sexual experiences, you always feel like there’s a third eye.

"I’m sure that’s why actresses back in the day were linked with prostitutes. It’s almost like you’re playing a part. You’re doing a performance for the man …

"Even though there are storylines that deal with the women treated badly, it’s very much from the female point of view. It’s never a voyeuristic thing from the male perspective – good sex or bad sex, you’re seeing it from the women’s point of view."

Lesley says the drama turned the tables on filming traditional sex scenes as it is both tantilising and raw.

"Their babies are with them. You get to see the normality of their lives … they have the doctor round every week to make sure they don’t have the clap," she said.

"I think some of the loveliest scenes take place behind-the-scenes at Margaret’s house. You see them being mothers. And then you see them having to do these strange sexual requests. Whatever their punter wants them to do. It’s a very broad view, which is why I think Harlots is so rounded.

"I don’t want people to just watch it and think – oh this is great we’re going to see lots of women having sex and prositutites in Georgian London."

Lesley was surprised to learn in the 18th Century, one in five women were prostitutes and said there was a treasure trove of materials she was able to read to research her role.

The prostitutes were known as the Daughters of Venus, pimped out via a Yellow Pages-style guide listing their age, price and sexual perversions.

She said: "The whole series is based on this wonderful book – Harris’ List of Covent Garden ladies – it blew my mind. It was written by a man who ran a pub in Covent Garden. Men were always asking him about prostitutes – who to recommend.

"He started writing almost like a blog. He wrote a directory on what they were like – what they were physically like, what they were good at.

"That’s a fantastic read. It was so blunt and honest and on the nose. It gave you the address. Go round the back alley and she’s usually there at six o’clock. It was absolutely brilliant.

"Then there were just great books about Georgian London. And the staggering statistics.

"One in five women at that time were prostitutes. Which is just unbelievable! Looking after themselves and being independent women. There was a lot of reading and research to do which was fantastic."

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