July 17, 1995 12:00 PM

HBO (Mon., July 17, 10 p.m. ET)


In a striking British miniseries, Ruth Gemmell plays a young mother in the Northern England city of Bradford who boots out her laborer husband after he hits her once too often. She turns desperately to prostitution to pay off debts. The film presents a frank, decidedly deglamorized depiction of the life, showing the revulsion the women feel for their Johns, the cynical superficiality of their allure and the manifold dangers of their lives.

Just as a sociological study, this would be memorable. But as the five-parter (airing over successive weeks) proceeds, the drama shifts into a murder mystery and then (less successfully) into the story of an unlikely business venture. The focus moves to two veteran hookers (Cathy Tyson and Geraldine James) and their efforts to escape their tawdry occupation.

Wonderfully acted, unsettlingly realistic (and a good deal too long), the miniseries combines pathos, humor and suspense.

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