Movie Review: Tipping The Velvet

While trying to fill my Netflix queue with an ever-eclectic mix of independent and quirky films, I recently added the daring little BBC mini-series Tipping The Velvet (all 3 episodes are together on one disc). The film, a screen adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel by the same name, arrived in my mailbox Friday. You can get the synopsis here; I’m not going to re-write it since I’ll never do it justice (and since the BBC has done a very fine job already).

Of course, I had no idea that this was an outright lesbian movie when I added it to the queue, but still, I’m very glad I got to watch it.  Tipping is a love story, first and foremost, much the way Secretary is (although we all have our own definitions of what is perverse and aberrant, and what is simply “alternative”).

Lesbian action notwithstanding, I loved this film. It is a beautiful story, and yes, it is sexual and steamy and sordid, sometimes a bit shocking (such as the scene with Mrs. Lethaby in which Nan is asked to wear a certain… um… accessory). But it is wonderfully entertaining. While I’m fairly certain that my own sexuality lies well within the hetero margins, I still couldn’t help but feel my pulse race when Kitty and Nan lock eyes (and, later, lips and other assorted girlie-bits). I felt Nan’s sexual awakening almost as if it were my own.

The characters are, shall we say, very well fleshed-out, making them – particularly the protagonist, Nan – so entrancing (enticing?) that I nearly found myself holding my knees together through parts of the film. I would totally make out with Rachael Stirling, especially if she had on her top hat and tails and threw me a rose. (Gawd, am I glad we didn’t screen this at Friday’s impromptu Movie Night. It might have been just a titch awkward with a roomful of presumably straight women (self included)!!!)

The drama is set in late-era Victorian England, which just lends itself to naughty entendre with its costumes and corsets. Perhaps appropriately, one of the themes throughout the film involves Nan, Kitty, and a few of the minor characters (Dickie, etc) dressing as boys. Nan first sees Kitty at the theatre, where her stage act has her dressing in male costume and singing, giving the innocent little ballads a heady twist. It is at this moment that Nan realizes her true sexuality, and begins to pursue it – contrary, of course, to society and her family. Happily, though, the movie does not dwell on the political and cultural issues surrounding Nan’s choice. They are, of course, present, but her real challenges are the same as people in the mainstream of human sexuality: finding love, losing love, and choosing love.

Along those lines, I liked the film’s sassy tone and light-heartedness. So often, a story who deals with a subject matter that’s still on the cultural fringe tends to feel burdened by its own significance, sometimes becoming heavy, dull, or even pedantic. Velvet does none of this; it never takes itself too seriously, and that’s so much of the fun. As a straight gal, I found this to be a very unthreatening and enjoyable example of queer entertainment. Not that I’m ready to start tipping the velvet, mind you. But I sure did like watching these ladies do it.

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