Forget your scantily clad babes and shirtless beefcakes, there’s nothing sexier than characters in full period get-up throwing caution (and social mores) to the wind and acting on their deepest desires. From the prostitutes depicted in Harlots and Maison Close to all those French adulterers in everything from Versailles to Madame Bovary, there’s a bodice ripper to meet all tastes in these offerings from SBS On Demand.
If it’s saucy historical times you’re after, look no further than this new series about the thriving brothel trade in 18th century London. In between the prostitutes talking about sex and moving socially upwards thanks to sex, there’s a lot of actual hanky panky going on, too. Samantha Morton is at her feisty best as Margaret Wells, a madam who thinks nothing of auctioning off her daughters’ virginity to advance her station in life, while Jessica Brown Findlay is a million miles away from Downton Abbey’s Lady Sybil as Margaret’s elder daughter, Charlotte.
Yes, yes, it’s much more than a bodice ripper. It’s a time travel-featuring sci-fi series, a historical fantasy and… oh, who are we kidding, we’re mostly here for the sex and romance. And so are millions of viewers around the world who devour every screen second of WWII nurse Claire Randall’s (Caitriona Balfe) adventures in the past with hunky highlander Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan).
It’s made headlines for its nudity and confronting sex scenes (orgy, anyone?). And while, once again, there is much more to Versailles than that, King Louis XIV (George Blagden) and the members of his court engage in their fair share of bedroom antics. What else was there to do when all of France’s nobility was cooped up in the Palace of Versailles – besides plot, scheme and poison each other, that is?
Head inside another brothel in this series set in Le Paradis, a Parisian establishment in the 1870s. Focussing on three women whose circumstances have caused them to become trapped working the world’s oldest trade, the French series shows the dark side of prostitution. That said, they get to wear some pretty amazing outfits.
The tale of the bored doctor’s wife who embarks on an adventure in adultery and over-spending is one for the ages, but director Sophie Barthes’ 2014 film adaptation of the Gustave Flaubert novel is true to its period roots. Mia Wasikowska brings depth to the title character as she transforms into a pleasure-seeking fashion plate, who spends as much time getting out of her exquisitely tailored dresses as she does getting into them.
The Princess of Montpensier
More French adultery is to be found in this 2010 film based on the novella by Madame de La Fayette. Like Emma Bovary, Marie de Mézières (Mélanie Thierry) is sent off to an arranged marriage, but in this case, she’s already in love with someone else. So begins a life spent torn between her wifely duty and her deep-seated passion.
Based on John Thomas and Lady Jane, the lesser known of DH Lawrence’s two novels about the titular wife (Marina Hands) and her romp with the gamekeeper (Jean-Louis Coulloc’h), this 2006 movie packs in all the sexual awakening you’d expect. The winner of the 2007 César Award for Best Film veers away from titillation towards a sensual and romantic tale.