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Trends: Sky’s sexiest drama yet takes in Juno Temple, a Moroccan dominatrix and 1940s erotica

WHEN Juno Temple was first hooked by hot new drama Little Birds, a collection of erotic short stories written in the 1940s by Anaïs Nin, she was on a flight to Los Angeles.

‘I was 17,’ recalls the 31-year-old Dirty John star, back in LA during lockdown. ‘I remember feeling like, “Wow — I didn’t realise I could get so turned on by this kind of stuff.” It was a really visceral moment. It was the first time I had read a real erotica that wasn’t about quintessential tame sexuality. It’s about the real raw inner core of what sexuality is for a human.’

Temple’s passion for the Sky Original series inspired by Nin’s work is evident. So it’s no wonder that she describes the day she was told she had the part of Lucy Savage, a sheltered New York debutante whose arranged marriage to a cash-strapped British aristo lands her in sexually liberated 1950s Tangier, as ‘monumental’.

Dominating the action: Yumna Marwan (above) and Juno Temple (below) in Sky’s Little Birds

The adaptation by Qatari-American fine artist Sophia Al-Maria uses Nin’s explicit stories of affairs and incest, told from a female point of view, as a launching pad for what is both a period piece and an erotic fever dream with the feel of a French New Wave movie.

Fellow Brit Hugh Skinner plays Lucy’s intended, Lord Hugo Cavendish-Smyth, while Lebanese feature film star Yumna Marwan impresses as Cherifa Lamour, a whip-wielding Moroccan dominatrix working in a Tangier brothel who captivates Lucy. Harking back to the era of 1950s and 1960s movie sirens Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale, Marwan burns up the screen, announcing herself in memorable fashion by beating and trampling on a gas mask-wearing punter in her high heels before peeing on his face.

Marwan was shooting another Lebanese film ‘in the middle of nowhere, in the mountains’ when she was sent three scenes to audition.

‘It was a very random thing because I’m not in the UK or American market at all,’ she says on Zoom from Amman, Jordan, ‘but I ended up giving it my all. I actually used the other film’s main actor to help me. I straddled him and grabbed him and stuff, and he was enjoying it!’

Once she had the part she took it upon herself to visit a working dominatrix in London before studio filming began in Manchester for the Tangier interiors.

‘I went to her dungeon and one of her clients was happy to bend over and have me whip him a few times,’ says Marwan nonchalantly, lighting up a cigarette. ‘That was all the training that I got for that but I felt like me and director Stacie [Passon] were on the same page with Cherifa.

Hooked: Juno Temple was won over by the script PICTURE: REX

‘I wanted to portray this Arab woman in a very complicated and relatable way. It’s extremely easy to exoticise and sexualise a brown dominatrix on TV. My concern was to give her the depth that she deserves.’

Temple is full of praise for the director and fellow cast members for their support during the challenging filming.

‘There was this genuine care on set,’ she says. ‘You really did feel that we could all talk to each other about things that sometimes we were nervous about or found complicated.’

So why should viewers give Little Birds a go? Marwan says: ‘I want young Arab girls to watch it because when I was a 12-year-old immigrant in the US if I had seen someone like Cherifa on American television I would have felt much better about myself. So I’m excited for the queer Arab community.’

Temple adds: ‘I’ve never seen the world that we are taken to in Little Birds in any other TV show. I would be surprised if someone doesn’t want to spend at least a weekend there.’

Hugh on Hugo

Hugh Skinner, who plays Lord Hugo Cavendish-Smyth in Little Birds, admits he had some trepidation when it came to the show’s steamy sex scenes — but he need not have worried with director Stacie Passon at the helm.

Skinner’s beach sex scene with Hugo’s other love interest, royal boyfriend and nightclub owner Adham (Raphael Acloque), is a case in point.

‘It’s a little bit humiliating sitting on a beach with your bum out but Stacie’s so good at that stuff,’ says Hugh (pictured), best known for his role as Prince William in parody sitcom The Windsors. ‘I’d seen her work on Transparent. The sex scenes in that are incredible so I knew she knew what she was doing.’

Skinner loved Qatari-American fine artist Sophia Al-Maria’s adaptation of Little Birds and admits: ‘When I first read it, what really blew me away was I thought it was going to be a period book adaptation but it doesn’t feel like that at all.

‘It’s so free-wheeling. It’s more like a surreal dream you might have after reading a book. It feels so impassioned and wild.’

All episodes available on Sky On Demand and Now TV

MORE EROTIC FICTION TO TRY

Wetlands by Charlotte Roche

Raunchy, graphic and often darkly humorous, this debut novel by the British-German Roche caused an uproarious publishing sensation when it came out in 2008.

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

If you’ve mooned over the 2017 Oscar-winning film (featuring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet), then do yourself a favour and take a deep dive into Aciman’s beautiful book.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

The author spent eight years talking to three women about desire and their sex lives, and the resulting piece of non-fiction is a game-changer. Erotic, revealing, compelling.

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

If you like your erotic reads a little more romantic, then perhaps this tale, about a girl who decides to go to a wedding with a man she meets in a lift, will float your boat.

The Sexual Life Of Catherine M by Catherine Millet

This 2001 no-holds-barred autobiography details the author’s pursuit of pleasure at orgies, singles clubs and with anonymous men.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

You’ve watched the show, but a romp through Rooney’s original unputdownable book will take you right back to those heady college days. NICOLE MOWBRAY