This pair of plucky pe­riod dra­mas thrill

At­ti­tudes to sex in 18th-cen­tury Bri­tain were rather rugged, as Poldark and Har­lots prove.

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The Cor­nish tourist board must be rub­bing its hands with de­light. Brood­ing pe­riod drama Poldark (Tues­days, 8.30pm, Prime), set in 18th-cen­tury Corn­wall, is back for a third se­ries.

Raven-haired Ross Poldark con­tin­ues to build his mine while locked in a bit­ter bat­tle with spoilt rich kid, Ge­orge War­leg­gan. All against a mag­nif­i­cent back­drop of Cor­nish coun­try­side.

In the open­ing scene, Ross’ one­time love El­iz­a­beth, now mar­ried to Ge­orge and heav­ily preg­nant, is out rid­ing when her horse bolts. I’ll be hon­est, it felt like a check­list of ev­ery Poldark as­so­ci­ated im­age you can think of. Gal­lop­ing horse? Check. Wild and rugged cliffs? Check. Fab­u­lous pe­riod cos­tume? Check. Foam­ing waves crash­ing on the rocks? Check. Ross and his glossy locks? Check. I was won­der­ing if the whole thing had turned into a par­ody of it­self.

But it throws the viewer straight back into the story. And what a story it is. The first hour sees a se­cret mar­riage; a death; and a new baby for El­iz­a­beth and Ge­orge. But the ques­tion is, who is the fa­ther? With no DNA test­ing in the 18th cen­tury, I’m guess­ing we won’t have a de­fin­i­tive an­swer any time soon.

Mean­while, 18th-cen­tury Lon­don is brought to the small screen in the glo­ri­ous new drama Har­lots (now avail­able on Light­box). The story cen­tres around two broth­els, run by feud­ing madams Margaret Wells (Sa­man­tha Mor­ton) and Ly­dia

Quigley (Les­ley Manville).

Wells runs a ba­sic back­street house of ‘‘ill re­pute’’ and Quigley op­er­ates at the top end of the mar­ket – her ‘‘girls’’ speak French and can have a con­ver­sa­tion about art and cul­ture. But Wells is set to move to a more il­lus­tri­ous ad­dress. ‘‘I’m claw­ing my way up­wards in the world,’’ she tells one of her clients. How­ever, when she’s sud­denly dragged be­fore the courts on the back of an anony­mous com­plaint, the de­posit for her new premises is wiped out and she’s forced to auction off her younger daugh­ter’s vir­gin­ity.

Yes, by our modern-day stan­dards that sounds shock­ing but in 18th­cen­tury Lon­don, peo­ple clearly had dif­fer­ent at­ti­tudes to sex and, cru­cially, it was big busi­ness. At the time there was even a pub­li­ca­tion, Har­ris’s List, that was a sort of cat­a­logue of pros­ti­tutes work­ing in Lon­don. And it fea­tures heav­ily in the open­ing episode, with one char­ac­ter go­ing to look for work with her ‘‘en­try from Har­ris’s List‘‘ by way of a sort of re­sume.

Al­though there’s plenty of vo­lu­mi­nous dress hoist­ing and rolling around on beds, the sex is cer­tainly not glam­ourised here. For the women in­volved, and this se­ries is very much about the women, this is ul­ti­mately about earn­ing a liv­ing in a world where fe­males had few rights and fewer op­tions. As Wells her­self so suc­cinctly puts it : ‘‘The only safety is in money. Money is a woman’s only power in this world.’’

This is a fan­tas­tic se­ries, with strong fe­male char­ac­ters, some great di­a­logue and a sto­ry­line that makes it im­pos­si­ble to look away. I’m ut­terly hooked.

Eleanor Tom­lin­son is back as Ross Poldark’s long-suf­fer­ing wife Demelza in the new sea­son of Poldark.

Al­though there’s plenty of rolling around on beds, the sex is far from glam­orous in Har­lots.

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