Tipping the Velvet – 4 Stars (Excellent)
What makes Tipping the Velvet an excellent film is its talented cast with a great presentation, and it has a life-changing, meaningful message by a lesbian about innocence, desire, passion, betrayal, empathy, change, independence, resourcefulness, vision, love and happiness while retaining a sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
It is incredibly unusual to see an alternative lifestyle film with a happy ending.
I review controversial films because they are ultimately about relationships and relationships are the foundation of our lives.
As I grow older I understand that the most important things in my life have nothing to do with money or material things, and everything to do with my relationships involving my wife, my children, my grandchildren, extended family and friends. What matters over the long haul is the well-being of people, not whether we agree or disagree with their lifestyle choices.
The BBC has done a tremendous service in bringing this movie to television with the quality of a BBC broadcast that includes great writing, great sound, great cinematography, great direction and a great cast.
Based on Sarah Waters’ acclaimed debut novel, Tipping the Velvet was adapted by Andrew Davies, an Emmy award-winning British screenwriter who has also written “Doctor Zhivago”, “Bridget Jone’s Diary”, “Sense and Sensibility”, “Vanity Fair” and “Pride and Prejudice”. Davies is a very talented heavyweight.
Tipping the Velvet tells the story of Nan Ashley (Rachael Starling, the real life daughter of Diana Rigg) who shucks oysters and serves customers at her father’s seaside restaurant in Victorian England during the 1890’s.
Nan’s mundane life turns upside down when she sees an extraordinary performance by an attractive traveling male impersonator named Kitty Butler (Keeley Haws). Nan’s innocent interest is fueled when she is asked by Kitty to become her dresser while she is performing in Whitstable.
When Kitty is recruited by Walter Bliss (John Bowe), and heads to London to become a big time entertainer, she invites Nan to accompany her as her dresser. Nan falls in love with Kitty, joins her act as a performer and ultimately the two become secret lovers. For Nan the relationship is euphoric and her happiness real until she returns from a vacation trip home and discovers that Kitty and her manager Walter have become lovers and are to marry.
Nan’s initial innocence and desire are now confronted by betrayal and rejection. Despite being devastated, Nan awakes from her stupor and asserts her independence by walking the streets of London disguised as a young man for hire, performing oral sex so she can survive. When she is assaulted, Nan is rescued by a rich widow who gives her every comfort in exchange for lesbian sex. Nan becomes a prisoner and slave to her passions for pleasing and being pleased.
Eventually there is a tiff and the widow, Diana Leathaby (Anna Chancellor), throws Nan out, where she is left penniless and alone to fend for herself with nothing but the clothes on her back. Despite her misfortune, Nan vows to survive. Nan now learns the plight of those in need and turns for help to the only person she can remember, Florence Banner (Jodhi May), who she had met earlier in better days.
Florence and the brother Ralph Banner (Hugh Bonneville) reluctantly take in the battered and exhausted Nan for a night, but Nan is determined to change her ways. She becomes resourceful in convincing Florence and Ralph that she can clean, cook, and watch the baby that the Banners are raising.
Nan’s vision is to make herself so indispensable that she will remain welcome in the Banner home despite her 7-year journey from innocence to unbridled passion to debauchery, recovery and finally well-being and acceptance. Ultimately Nan and Florence fall in love. Then Kitty returns to Nan’s life once again when Kitty, wishing to resume her torrid relationship with Nan, learns that Nan is back performing on stage.
Nan is then forced to decide between the attractive, passionate Kitty and the more loyal, loving Florence. For once, Nan makes a wise choice in staying with Florence, finding the love and happiness she wanted but had never possessed. The ending is what makes Tipping the Velvet an excellent movie. When all is said and done, Nan and Florence survive in their relationship as well-adjusted adults who find each other and continue living with their self-esteem and self-worth intact.
Other than a few awards from lesbian theater groups, Tipping the Velvet was ignored by the critics, and especially Hollywood. This is why I write reviews, to separate the wheat from the chaff and recognize substance in film making wherever it exists.
The more knowledge and understanding we have of people, races, cultures, mores and lifestyles, the sooner we come to understand that we are all connected. We tend to value acceptance and tolerance only when it is taken from us. “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” John F. Kennedy said it, and I believe it.
And what does “tipping the velvet” mean? See the movie, not to find out what tipping the velvet means but because it is an excellent film on alternative lifestyles. Support films that increase understanding and acceptance.
(Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-Part Review.)
Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley