[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for the Season 3, Episode 3 of “Harlots.”]
The Wells family has endured many hardships on “Harlots,” but now that matriarch Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) has escaped the hangman’s noose, the outlook seemed far less grim. Unfortunately, on Wednesday’s episode, the Wells fortunes take a turn for the worse when eldest daughter Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay) dies in a tragic accident.
While promoting a gala affair/boxing match with her partner Lady Fitz (Liv Tyler), Charlotte sneaks off for a tryst with local pimp and tavern owner Isaac Pincher (Alfie Allen). Upset for losing out on a business deal, his brother Hal (Ash Hunter) tracks them down to the stairwell and starts pummeling Isaac. Charlotte tries to stop the fight, but gets accidentally pitched over the balcony railing to her death below.
IndieWire spoke with Brown Findlay about the sudden and shocking twist:
“Within seconds she goes from being full of life to on the edge of death,” said the actress. “Seeing how she fights for some form of peace, right to the end, pushing against the violence of the world, of the men who rule it, her death acts as a very stark reminder that not all stories end the way we wish they did.”
In the series set in 18th century Georgian London, the Wells family runs a successful brothel with Charlotte becoming one of the most celebrated “freelance” courtesans. She steps up to take over the Greek Street brothel when her mother disappeared at the end of last season. Competition with the Pincher brothers leads to a bitter rivalry, then a detente, and finally the illicit affair.
It’s a far cry from Brown Findlay’s most famous role as Lady Sibyl from “Downton Abbey.” Overall, “Harlots” offered the actress many opportunities to upend expectations. The harlots and bawds are seen as feminist and heroic since it’s the one profession where a woman can have relative autonomy at that time. It’s an unusual narrative that’s owed to an all-female crew behind the scenes. “Harlots” is co-created by Moira Buffini and Alison Newman, alongside executive producers Alison Owen, Debra Hayward and Alison Carpenter, and a staff of female writers and directors.
“[It’s] very special, a complete privilege that I hope I get to experience more. Us harlots both in front and behind the camera are family to me now,” she said. “I felt so at ease and knew [this character] so well three years in that I just threw myself in. I was always made to feel safe and respected, and there is nothing like respect to allow for freeness on screen.”
After two seasons and three episodes, the actress ponders why it was time to wrap up Charlotte’s time on “Harlots.””Maybe it wasn’t! But she is at her best when she doesn’t have a tether, when she can rebel and push,” said Brown Findlay. “And I feel like we found that in spades this season. And wow, does she go out with a bang.”
Shooting her final scene was surprisingly emotional for her. “I had a real moment at the end when I took stock of what an amazing time ‘Harlots’ has been. Being able to come into work every day and play, properly play, was a hard thing to walk away from,” she said. “I always cry at the end of a job as it means so much to me to be there at all, but this one really hit me hard.”
Part of that sorrow comes from impact that playing Charlotte Wells had on her.
“Charlotte helped me find my confidence and my joy again. She taught me there is nothing wrong with being bold or loud or broken,” she said. “And as such, each person that came into her world touched mine. Because I was free. It’s wild how much three years can do when you let yourself dive into a character like that. She changed my life.”
“Harlots” is releases new episodes on Wednesday on Hulu.