The eight-part series was directed only by women and boasts an all-female writing and producing team. Hulu is intending to even the playing field with its upcoming brothel drama Harlots.
The eight-part series — which stars Samantha Morton, Lesley Manville and Jessica Brown Findlay — promises to show as much male nudity as female nudity and tell its story from the perspective of women.
“It was very important to us from the beginning to make it about the female gaze. We were determined to make something different,” executive producer Alison Owen said Saturday during a panel for the drama at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour. “Our hope from the beginning was, ‘Everything from the whore’s eye view.'”
To ensure that the story comes from the perspective of women, only female directors were hired to helm the hourlong episodes. Among them: Coky Giedroyc (Penny Dreadful) and China Moo-Young (Thirteen, Humans). “We really set out to get all female directors. We got the best of the best in the U.K., and it has influenced the show exactly the way we wanted it to,” said executive producer Debra Hayward, who added that the series also has an all-female writing team.
Set against the backdrop of 18th century Georgian London, Harlots explores the city’s “most valuable commercial activity” (i.e. sex) based on the stories of real women. Written by Moira Buffini (Jane Eyre), the drama is based on an original idea by Buffini and Alison Newman.
“It’s a show about economics as much as it is a show about sex work,” said Manville, who plays a madam who threatens Morton’s character, Margaret Wells, as she struggles to reconcile her roles as mother and brothel owner. “What the show does really well is show prostitution from every social angle.”
Gardening, mechanical creatures, library books and neighborly friction figure in a magic-tinged fable starring Jessica Brown Findlay and Tom Wilkinson.
In the gently comic, slightly tart fairy tale This Beautiful Fantastic, a novice gardener named Bella Brown learns to till the soil, to weed and plant and prune. Leading a pitch-perfect cast, Downton Abbey star Jessica Brown Findlay plays this “oddest of oddballs,” an orphan whose care as an infant was handled briefly by ducks. As the earth gradually yields to the grownup Bella’s newfound know-how, none of what transpires is earth-shattering, but it’s the way it happens, with the simplicity and sense of wonder of an old-fashioned picture book, that makes her story, however wispy, delightful.
Writer-director Simon Aboud doesn’t push the quirk factor; even when the narrative is at its most playful, he keeps it rooted to a lived-in reality. Mining familiar territory with an earnest clarity, he shapes a mild yet winning fantasy about hearts opening and friendships blooming. The movie should travel well as it books international dates after its North American festival premiere.
In a lead role that had been pegged to Carey Mulligan and Felicity Jones at various times during the production’s development, Findlay combines fresh-faced innocence and a nascent streak of inner steel as Bella, a creature of rigid habit whose world changes after her crotchety neighbor puts her in his sites.
Tom Wilkinson’s Alfie Stephenson is one of those engagingly acerbic misanthropes who are easier to find in literature and film than in life. He delivers crisp, irked assessments of the young woman next door, first in brief bits of voiceover narration and then face-to-face. (His eloquently cutting remarks probably played a key role in the screenplay’s selection for the Brit List, a U.K. version of the Black List of unproduced scripts.) Alfie’s chief complaint: Bella’s criminal neglect of her rented house’s backyard, which has turned into an overgrown English jungle of tangled greenery. Outraged by the abomination, he snitches on her to her landlord, who gives Bella a month to tidy up the garden or be evicted.
From an insult-spewing nemesis, Alfie gradually, and predictably, morphs into a source of inspiration for Bella, goading her to push past her fear of flora and embrace the horticultural blank slate at hand — a smart enticement to a young librarian who dreams of writing and illustrating children’s books but hasn’t yet figured out what she wants to say.
The bargaining chip between them is Vernon, the housekeeper and talented cook who leaves Alfie’s employ for the kinder, if less well-heeled, domain of Bella’s cottage. Played by Andrew Scott (Moriarty on Sherlock) with the right mix of vulnerability and gusto, Vernon is a widowed dad who agrees to resume cooking meals for his demanding former boss if Alfie will help Bella keep her home by sharing his gardening expertise.
Vernon’s culinary exuberance and Alfie’s lush, colorful, quasi-wild garden (played by that of London-based garden designer Peter Beardsley) embolden Bella and chip away at her penchant for orderliness. So too does sweetly bumbling inventor Billy Trantor (Jeremy Irvine), who frequents her workplace and puts Bella at odds with the comically imperious head librarian (Anna Chancellor) — a woman who’s given to spelling out admonishments on a letter board and sometimes resorts to a microphone to amplify her demand for silence. In turn, Bella inspires them too, although the character remains a tad too passive and reactive.
The highlight among Billy’s handcrafted mechanical critters — and one of the most memorable elements in a film that isn’t the stuff of deep, lasting impressions — is a metallic bird named Luna, scruffily elegant and powered by moonlight. (Its brief flight was manipulated by puppeteers who were then digitally painted out, in the film’s sole CGI sequence.)
Though it has been compared to Amelie, the movie has a leaner sensibility, never lapsing into froufrou. Aboud, whose feature debut was the 2012 crime thriller Comes a Bright Day, elicits an unforced energy, with a touch of the elegiac, in the performances and every other aspect of This Beautiful Fantastic. In Ian Fulcher’s costumes, Alexandra Walker’s interiors and Anne Nikitin’s score, the whimsy of the ephemeral proceedings is undeniable but understated. Alfie’s cherished flowers have an abstract radiance in cinematographer Mike Eley’s out-of-focus close-ups; in more straightforward fashion, the intensifying connections among Bella and her new friends have a radiance too.
Yesterday, Hulu announced its mid-season programming slate. The streaming platform will release Season One of Harlots on Wednesday, March 29th. There will be 8 episodes available. Jessica will star alongside Samantha Morton, Lesley Manville and Eloise Smyth.
Synopsis: Margaret Wells (Morton) struggles to reconcile her roles as brothel owner and mother to daughters Charlotte (Findlay) and Lucy (Smyth). When her business comes under attack from Lydia Quigley (Manville), a rival madam with a ruthless streak, Margaret must fight back even if it means losing her family and possibly her life. Harlots is a powerful family drama set in 18th Century London that offers a brand new take on the city’s most valuable commercial activity – sex.
We have added a new still and set photo to the gallery, plus here is the trailer for Jessica’s upcoming film The Beautiful Fantastic …
Samuel Goldwyn Films and Ambi Group will partner on a domestic theatrical release for Simon Aboud’s romantic drama “This Beautiful Fantastic,” starring Jessica Brown Findlay and Tom Wilkinson.
The companies are planning a release in early 2017. The film also stars Andrew Scott (“Sherlock”), Jeremy Irvine (‘War Horse”) and Anna Chancellor.
“This Beautiful Fantastic” is a contemporary fairy tale revolving around the friendships between a reclusive young woman with dreams of being a children’s book author and a cantankerous widower, set against the backdrop of a beautiful garden in the heart of London. When she is forced by her landlord to deal with her neglected garden or face eviction, she meets a grumpy, loveless, rich old man who lives next door and happens to be an amazing horticulturalist.
Producers are Ambi Group principals Andrea Iervolino and Monika Bacardi teamed with Christine Alderson and her Ipso Facto production banner. Kami Naghdi is also a producer and Jennifer Levine is an executive producer.
Peter Goldwyn of Samuel Goldwyn Films said, “It is rare nowadays to find a gem such as Simon Aboud’s ‘This Beautiful Fantastic.’ The depth of emotion and heart of this film is something we cannot wait to share with audiences.”
Steven, the biopic aiming to chart living grimace and talented singer/songwriter Morrissey’s life before musical stardom, has just added to its cast. Downton Abbey veteran Jessica Brown Findlay has signed on to play a key role.
Jack Lowden has the lead, playing the man known back in the day as Steven Patrick Morrissey, a teenager escaping his mundane existence to find fame and fortune by founding The Smiths with Johnny Marr in 1982 before striking out on his own in 1987. The film, to be directed by Mark Gill based on the script he wrote with William Thacker, will follow those early days. Findlay will be Linder Sterling, a Liverpudlian performance artist and musician who becomes one of his closest friends.
Gill is about to start shooting the film, with Entertainment One planning to release it in the UK either later this year or early next. As for Findlay, who was last seen in Victor Frankenstein, she most recently worked on comedy drama This Beautiful Fantastic, which has yet to announce a release date.
Director Robert Icke has become the great hope of British theater. The 29-year-old has a rare talent for tapping into a text’s driving forces. He staged “1984” not as a possible future, but as a warning from history. Last year’s “Oresteia,” compressed and contemporized, felt like a box-set thriller. Now, bringing the same scrutiny to “Uncle Vanya” at the Almeida Theater, he gives us Chekhov in high-definition, its every texture exposed; a study in stasis. His meticulousness might hinder the play’s momentum and, for all its lit-crit insights, it’s more moral than it is moving. Small bother, though: This is rich, wry and wise – level-up stuff.
Like playwright Annie Baker, whose version of “Uncle Vanya” played New York’s Soho Rep in 2012, Icke gives Chekhov a contemporary, colloquial update, slowing stage time to something more like life. The names are anglicized – Vanya is Uncle John (Paul Rhys), sometimes Johnny — although it’s not specifically set in England. “To leave them in Russian,” the director’s note explains, “would be to make strange that which Chekhov intended ordinary.”
This is Icke’s way: He finds pinpoint images that pull the play into the present — earrings on middle-aged men, or a young woman (Sonya, played by “Downton Abbey” alum Jessica Brown Findlay) dressed in shabby mens’ shirts. He stays faithful to the original but stretches it all a bit further, upping its contrast, reactivating its drama. Astrov and Yelena don’t just kiss, they rip one another’s clothes off and roll about on the floor.
You see the play afresh and, moreover, in full. At three and a half hours (three 10 minute intervals keep us alert), Icke’s version gives each interaction its due. Abstract ideas – age, beauty, time, work, love – glide past one another like orbiting planets. It really is profound, heaving with life.
On Hildegard Bechtler’s slow-revolve of a wooden set – always moving, but going nowhere – there’s a sleepy atmosphere. People sit and read newspapers, toy with Rubik’s Cubes, tune guitars. Everything’s unhurried. Nothing’s urgent. Leaving on call, Tobias Menzies’ doctor puts his watch back on, as if time, here, were irrelevant. Ian Dickinson’s soundscape highlights the silence. Wood creaks, rain falls, an airplane whirs overhead.
Out of this emerges a study of inaction: the ways we waste time and the ways time wastes us. John and Sonya bury themselves in work – but, as the eco-friendly doctor says, “God only knows what our real work is.” Icke peppers proceedings with images of disrepair: guitars that detune, roofs that spring leaks. Furniture piles up on Bechtler’s set until, without anyone noticing, there are too many rugs and too many chairs. It’s the exact opposite of Michael’s beloved forests, disappearing bit by bit, year on year.
Rhys plays the title role as a man incapable of imposing himself. He’s too soft for it – the burr of his beard matches that of his voice. Life’s held him back – through grief, labor or simply personality – and he’s held back from life. When John notes, “I could have been a Schopenhauer or Dostoyevsky,” you almost believe him.
Icke’s great on the agonies of middle-age. Rhys shows us the ache of 47 year-old knees, but Hilton McRae (as the professor) suggests the tortures ahead – gout, breathlessness, worse. Even Elena (Vanessa Kirby), at 27, thinks herself “old.” The play’s attuned to the particular darkness of men, and the soothing presence of women. The lonesomeness at the play’s heart becomes unmissable, as three drunken fortysomethings howl Bowie songs at the moon.
The production is exquisitely acted. McRae catches the pomp of a man who’ll use a wooden chair as a lectern in his own sitting room, while Menzies finds the underlying oddity of Astrov, a darkness that surfaces like a long-range submarine. Brown Findlay’s Sonya, so in want of a decent conditioner and a confidence boost, is quite wrenching to watch, so entirely and so hopelessly in love, while Kirby is a superlative Elena: lithe, fickle, hypocritical, shallow and yet always sympathetic. It’s a performance that confirms her as the outstanding stage actress of her generation, capable of the most unexpected choices. Fumbling with Astrov, she gets her head stuck in her jumper – for all her outward ease, she’s as clumsily human as any of them.
However, Icke asks us to analyze these people, not feel for them. Its slowness prevents momentum; its constant significance, credibility. Icke’s knowingness, though amusing, can get in the way.
His sincerity can clear a path though. At the end, Michael holds up a globe and lays a finger on Africa. The heat, he says, must be unbearable: “Now, I mean.” It pulls us back into the present; a direct accusation. Their inaction is all of ours.
Photographs have been released of the cast rehearsing for the upcoming production of Uncle Vanya at the Almeida Theatre. Jessica Brown Findlay plays Sonya alongside Paul Rhys’ Vanya. Vanessa Kirby is Elena and Tobias Menzies plays Astrov.
This is a new version of Chekhov’s play from Robert Icke, who also directs the show, following his radical re-imagining of Oresteia which transferred to Trafalgar Studios.
Uncle Vanya runs at the Almeida Theatre from 5 February to 26 March with a press night on 12 February.