Top critical review
Series 1 is gruesome but interesting, series 2 less gruesome, less interesting...
on 8 July 2016
It's true that series 2 isn't as good as series 1, but that pushes me below the level of wanting to keep watching. The first series is gruesome but interesting. It dwells on the horrors of being trapped into prostitution, which is a message for today as much as the 19th Century, and the rule throughout the first series is: however awful things are, they'll get much worse. It's horrifying to watch how some of the characters will, for the smallest of reasons, ruin another's life, or get them killed. But somehow it was almost believable, up until the last episode, where it appeared everything was on its characteristic path downwards, but then suddenly it was all OK now, everyone who survived was happy. I think this was partly because a hugely malignant character lurking in the shadows, about to bring everything crashing down, was suddenly forgotten about, which puzzled me.
The second series is equally puzzling, in that it doesn't really follow on from the previous series - some things have reverted to how they were before the last episode of series 1, despite the everyone-is-happy feel to the first episode of series 2. (I don't want to say more, for fear of being accused of excessive spoilering....) Also, although series 1 was slow, full of scenes where not much happened, series 2 is more so. Lengthy shots of someone riding in a carriage in the same little street that all the other carriage rides have occurred in during the two series doesn't really add much to the plot or the viewer's enjoyment. The story line is even more fragmented, and seems to be moving more and more towards soap. The other frustration is things just aren't explained. People wander into the story, and wander out again. Things happen without any clear vision of what they are, or why they're in the series at all.
Still, there's some really good acting, it looks good in a seedy sort of way. I agree the strange this-century music feels odd against the Victorian-era dress and manners, but I guess music of the time wouldn't fit the upbeat whorehouse idea. Having said that, some rather good unmodern choral stuff appeared in the second episode, so maybe this is changing for the better. But I'm not sure I'll be there to enjoy it. Having endured my way to the end of episode 2 of the second series, I don't feel there's enough I want to know about to keep watching.