Is The Confessions of Frannie Langton based on a true story? The real inspiration behind the ITVX period drama

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is based on some excellent source material. Here's everything you need to know.

Karla-Simone Spence as Frannie and Sophie Cookson as Madame Benham in The Confessions of Frannie Langton
(Image credit: ITVX/Future)

The year is 1826 and a former stands in court accused of brutally murdering her former master and mistress - but is The Confessions of Frannie Langton based on a true story?

After first airing on ITVX last year, The Confessions of Frannie Langton is now being broadcast on ITV, with new episodes dropping at 9pm. The steamy drama tells the tale of the titular Frannie - a servant and former slave - who has been accused of murdering her employer and his wife. Set in both a sugar plantation in Jamaica and the streets of Georgian London, The Confessions of Frannie Langton is filmed in some interesting locations, and much like viewers wanted to know if another new drama, The Sixth Commandment is based on a true story, now the same questions are being asked of The Confessions of Frannie Langton

Karla-Simone Spence and Sophie Cookson star in this tale of scandal and forbidden love that has left viewers hooked. Read on for the inspiration behind it and how to watch the four-part series - but be warned, there are spoilers ahead...

Is The Confessions of Frannie Langton based on a true story?

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is not based on a true story. The show is actually based on a book of the same name, by Sara Collins. The novel was first published in 2019 and was Collins' debut novel. And although the novel isn't based on a true story either, the depictions of slavery are based on real history.

Speaking about the decision to adapt her novel for the small screen, Collins said: "I wanted to dramatise a passionate love affair between a black woman and her white mistress in Regency London. We've been led to assume this kind of thing could never have happened, which is precisely why it's the story I wanted to tell."

According to her website, Sara Collins is of Jamaican descent and grew up in Grand Cayman. After graduating from the London School of Economics, she spent 17 years working as a lawyer, before turning her hand to writing novels. Following the decision to change her career, Collins obtained a Master’s degree in Creative Writing with distinction from Cambridge University, where she was awarded the 2015 Michael Holroyd Prize. 

Emma Donoghue, author of Room, had high praise for the book. She said "By turns lush, gritty, wry, gothic and compulsive, The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a dazzlingly page turner. With as much psychological savvy as righteous wrath, Sara Collins twists together the slave narrative, bildungsroman, love story and crime novel to make something new."

Author of The Haunting of Henry Twist, Rebecca F. John, was just as enthusiastic, adding "I loved this novel. A literary page-turner, an engrossing murder mystery, and a deep meditation on freedom, choice, and what it means to have a voice, Sara Collins’ writing is as seductive as it is elusive – just like Frannie Langton herself. For all its horrors, I could have dallied in this opium-addled world with Frannie endlessly, another addict, hooked on Collins’ words." 

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins £8.99 | Amazon

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins £8.99 | Amazon

Read the book now adapted into a major new series on ITV, starring Karla-Simone Spence and Sophie Cookson

Was there a real Frannie Langton?

No, Frannie Langton was not a real person. In an interview with the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, Sara Collins explained, "One thing I wanted to do very strongly, was to make a black woman the star of her own gothic romance. So that was my major reason for writing my own gothic romance and for having a protagonist like Frannie."

Meanwhile, some unconfirmed reports have suggested that Frannie's character was based on the life of Mary Prince, who was born to enslaved parents in Bermuda and went on to write The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, which was published in 1831 – three years before the Abolition of Slavery Act came into force. 

Sophie Cookson as Madame Benham and Karla-Simone Spence as Frannie in The Confessions of Frannie Langton

(Image credit: ITVX)

What happens in The Confessions of Frannie Langton?

Frannie Langton finds herself accused of the double murder of her employers - a crime she has no memory of committing - and the narrative starts in a 19th-century prison where Frannie is being tried.

Switching between her life in Jamaica and her time in London, the viewers finds out that Frannie has spent most of her life enslaved in the Jamaican plantations, and continues to be a slave when she's gifted to scientist George Benham and his eccentric wife, Marguerite Benham by her former owner John Langton. Finding herself in Georgian London, Frannie's troubles continue.  

Working as a maid in her new household, Frannie falls in love with Marguerite, and the pair embark on an illicit love affair. However, when she wakes one morning to find a murdered Marguerite beside her, and George also dead, Frannie becomes the prime suspect in the killings. 

The biggest problem is that Frannie's laudanum addiction means she has no recollection of what happened the night the Benhams died. One thing she does know is that she'd never kill the woman she loves. From her prison cell, Frannie battles the clock to try and recall what happened, in a race against time before she hangs for the crimes. Exploring race, oppression, and classism, the show creates a mystery that will keep viewers watching until the shocking truth is revealed. 

Jodhi May as Hep Elliot in The Confessions of Frannie Langton

(Image credit: ITVX)

Where can I watch The Confessions of Frannie Langton?

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is airing at 9pm on ITV from Monday 21 August until Thursday 24 August. You can also watch all four episodes on ITVX, the streaming service from ITV.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton: Cast

  • Karla-Simone Spence (Wannabe, Gold Digger) as Frannie Langton
  • Sophie Cookson (The Trial of Christine Keeler, Red Joan) as Madame Marguerite Benham
  • Patrick Martins (Redemption, Blasts From the Past) as as Olaudah 'Laddie' Cambridge
  • Stephen Campbell Moore (War of the Worlds, The One) as George Benham
  • Steven Mackintosh (Wanderlust, The Pact) as John Langton
  • Henry Pettigrew (Line of Duty, The Aftermath) as William Pettigrew
  • James Alexandrou (Eastenders, Casualty) as Constable Meek
  • Pooky Quesnel (Ralph & Katie, Waterloo Road) as Linux
  • Amarah-Jae St Aubyn (Lovers Rock, Anansi Boys) as Sal
  • Jodhi May (Gentleman Jack, The Witcher) as Hephzibah 'Hep' Elliot

Karla-Simone Spence as Frannie in The Confessions of Frannie Langton

(Image credit: ITVX)

In a statement about taking on the role of Frannie, Karla-Simone Spence said "It's an absolute honour and dream to bring to life the intelligent, forward-thinking, resilient woman that is Frannie Langton. Her journey truly is extraordinary and that's all thanks to Sara Collins' incredible writing of three-dimensional women. I hold Frannie dear to my heart and I'm really looking forward to unleashing her."

Meanwhile, John Langton actor Steven Mackintosh told Memorable TV "The Confessions of Frannie Langton is so many different things told in such a brilliant way. Sara Collins has taken the classic period drama and created an incredibly fresh perspective on it. At the same time it is a murder mystery, a story of passion and sensuality, a story with its origins in slavery and oppression. It manages to do so many different things in a very exciting, fresh and powerful way."

In other TV news, where reveal where Caroline Moran comedy Henpocalypse! was filmed, as well as the filming locations of Becoming Elizabeth - the Channel 4 period drama - and the cast of Only Murders in the Building, as season three lands on Dinsey+.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.