Tipping the Velvet (DVD)
2004- BBC mini series
Smitten by music hall life, and by the beautiful male impersonator Kitty Butler (Keeley Hawes), Nan Astley (Rachael Stirling) leaves her family’s Whitstable oyster parlor and follows her heart to London. There she finds unimaginable joy—and misery—as she explores the secret side of fin de siècle life.
Based on the acclaimed novel by Sarah Waters and adapted by Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Doctor Zhivago), this powerful BBC drama is both a frank depiction of lesbianism and a witty and moving account of a young woman who will win your heart while searching for her own. Also starring Anna Chancellor (Pride and Prejudice), Jodhi May (The Last of the Mohicans), Hugh Bonneville (Iris) and John Bowe (Poldark). "Provocative and uplifting" ––The Baltimore Sun. "Flat-out sublime" ––The Seattle Times.
There are 103 reviews of this film on Amazon, so I think if you want a full spectrum of reviews you can go there. I thought I’d just give a few impressions of how I experienced the movie.
I haven’t read the book. Nor have I read any other of Sarah Waters’ books, so I really can’t compare it to the original story or her other stories. However, from what I gleaned over at Amazon, the movie version is pretty close.
I also can’t compare this to Fingersmith, which I read in several reviews is way better. So this is a first time impression based on nothing really except my personal experience with this film.
I loved it. Really loved it. There are very few films, or books for that matter, in which when it’s over I feel really sad. I didn’t want to let go of the world I’d just been in for a few hours, I wanted to hang out with the characters just a bit more.
Tipping the Velvet affected me on so many levels and I’ll admit that it did break my heart in a few places and I did get a bit emotional and cry a few times.
The first thing that hit me was how the relationship between Nan and Kitty develop. It’s a slow build up and Nan’s longing for Kitty palpable and extremely passionate. She’s only 18 and has no idea really that she’s in love with a woman as opposed to what she’s supposed to feel with a man, but is so smitten that she only knows she will do anything to be around Kitty.
This for me was the best part of the film, how they start relating and how slowly Kitty opens up to Nan and seduces her in a way. It’s sweet, it’s very romantic, poignant, innocent and it’s heartbreaking in a way. It brings up all those feelings of longing you’ve ever had a for anyone plus all that vulnerability when falling in love, and brings them to the front of your psyche. So this was very well done and rather emotional and touching for me.
Of course, things hit the skids because that’s what makes for good drama, and Kitty blows off Nan to marry their theatrical manager. This throws Nan into a tailspin of emotional anguish, which sets her off on a different journey than she would have thought for herself as a simple country girl.
I’ve read a few reviews of the book at Goodreads and quite a few mentioned that Nan seemed to drift aimlessly, having no backbone or ability to stand up for herself. I don’t know if the book portrays her like that, but in this story she does have backbone. It’s just strength to do what she has to do to survive. In that process, she uses and embraces this world she was in of dressing like a man to get what she needs and she grows from her experiences of selling herself in different ways to get on.
I will admit, that once Kitty was out of the picture it’s more of a somber drama without that inner feeling of joy that two people who love each other will be together and some of the passion of it was gone, with reality setting in. I kept wishing Kitty would somehow come back into the story, that it couldn’t be true that two people who loved each other like Kitty and Nan would not survive. But I admit this desire in me that they get back together kept up the tension and desire to watch this movie.
The scenery and imagery of Victorian life was very well done in this story. Especially the world of vaudeville or stage performers. I wasn’t so much hot over the singing and dancing numbers in the movie, but was intrigued to know that during this time period many women dressed as men and did stage performances as men. There was a whole underground world of performers that crossed dressed and were gay and lesbian that was well known about in certain circles and it seems that it was quite accepted amongst those people, even if against the law at that time. It also portrayed the ugly side of this world as well, which was quite fascinating.
There were some minor instances that portrayed that being gay during these times was wholly unacceptable and apparently, in the book Kitty rejects Nan due to some inner homophobic conflict, I don’t know. However, in this story that is not the case. Although we really don’t know why Kitty rejects Nan, but that she does pay for it emotionally.
One thing I must bring up is that there were quite a few nude scenes as well as sex between Nan and several women during her journey. I thought they were beautifully and tastefully done, very erotic but not in a gaudy, titillating way. I felt that these women really want and have deep need for each other during those scenes. And there is one fascinating nude scene in which Nan is dressed as Hermaphrodites, naked and painted in gold and wearing a strap on as entertainment for her mistress’ party. I thought that the BBC allowing this to be in a TV film was quite bold.
All in all this was a good movie. I’d definitely recommend it to any woman who is lurking about some inner openness to women on a romantic level. It portrays the passion that women can feel for each other in a rather beautiful and erotic way.
I’ll probably get a hold of some other Sarah Water’s books or DVD’s, especially if they are as intense as this story was. Oh and that was another bonus, this DVD had a short interview with Sarah Waters, which was kind of interesting.
Heat level: 3- tastefully done sex with some nudity
Grade: Between A- and B+
Here's a montage of scenes from the movie that show the most poignant moments. Just so you know, it does give away some of the best parts, although it's done to music and it's well worth not watching this if you intend to watch the movie at some point. There are lots of vids of this movie on youtube in case you want more.