Lashings of sauce and suspiciously smooth skin
GOOD news and not so good news if you ever have the chance to travel back in time to 1763 London, the setting for Harlots (ITV Encore,
Tuesday, 10pm). On the plus side, judging by the blooming loveliness of the complexions, the skincare products and makeup are of a quality to be found in any modern-day airport duty free.
On the not so plus side, the tailoring is dreadful. Did you know that some poor ladies of the time had to put up with dresses so badly cut their embonpoints spilled over the top like cascading melons on a badly stacked market stall? No wonder they could not wait to rip the wretched garments off.
Forgive the levity about the miserable business of prostitution, but Harlots started it, Miss. Complete with a pounding pop score a la Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, this is one period drama that wants to have its cake and scoff it.
Opening proceedings by informing the viewer that one in five women in Georgian London made a living selling sex, Harlots is not averse to here and there pointing out the unhappiness of the working girls’ lot. But it fancies its main business to be serving up a steamy tale of female rivalry peppered with titillating scenes and dialogue that would have the lads on Viz reaching for the smelling salts. Still, it is written by women. Directed by them, too. So that’s OK, then.
Samantha Morton plays Margaret Wells, a madam who has sold the virginity of her daughter Charlotte (Downton’s Jessica Brown Findlay) to the highest bidder and intends to do the same with the next along, Lucy (Eloise Smyth), to fund a move from Covent Garden to the fancier realms inhabited by rival madam Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville). With the exception of lamb to the slaughter Lucy, everyone is hard as nails and given to lecturing each other that love is nuffink but a mugs’ game. You just know it will end in tears, but whose we do not know. We may be too busy sniggering to notice.
If it is a touch of class madam and sir are after, may I direct your attention to Decline and Fall (BBC One, Friday, 9pm), an adaptation of the finest Waugh satire known to woman or man. The tale of a blameless young cove sent
down from Oxford in the 1920s only to plummet further, director Guillem Morales’s drama boasts so many riches it ought to be embarrassed.
Besides Jack Whitehall as the nice but dim central character Paul Pennyfeather, the cast includes David Suchet as Dr Fagan, headmaster of the minor, very minor, public school in Wales where Pennyfeather winds up, Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria as Margot Beste-Chetwynde (pronounced Beast-Cheating), mother of one of the pupils, and Boardwalk Empire’s
Stephen Graham (pronounced Graham) as a porter who may or may not be up to no good.
It was a devil of a job trying to pick out the highlight of this, the first of three episodes, but Suchet’s Fagan edged it. If his lines about the Welsh don’t result in complaints, I’m a leek. When not dispensing Waughian barbs or playing for slapstick laughs, Decline and Fall is content to be gently, delightfully funny. Think of it as a warm bath to relax into of a Friday evening. All Round to Mrs Brown’s (BBC One,
Saturday, 9.15pm) is about as relaxing as being suspended from the ceiling while a stranger whips you with a tea towel to win a dishwasher. That was just one of the segments in a rag bag of a programme that attempted to take Mrs Brown’s Boys and mix it with a chat show, The Generation Game, Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and a flu dream.
The guests on the first outing were Judy Murray and her mother Shirley, together with Pamela Anderson, former Baywatch star and current visitor to Julian Assange, guest of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Pammy had a look on her face that skittered between shock and awe. One felt her pain. This is definitely something she will want to talk through with Jules next time.
The Murrays, however, were having a rare old tear, as was the studio audience. In a one-hour show the chat segment was the only bit worth saving, with Mrs Brown almost managing to match Mrs Merton in her ability to ask a browscorchingly cheeky question and get away with it.
Just when you thought it was all over there was a cooking segment with Chef Aly. Tonight’s show may well feature spaghetti bolognese. They’ve certainly got the mince for it.
Samantha Morton heads the cast of the bawdy Harlots, a tale of prostitutes in 18th-century London