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Tipping the Velvet

Year: 2002
Production Co: Sally Head Productions
Director: Geoffrey Sax
Writer: Sarah Waters
Cast: Rachael Stirling, Keeley Hawes
This BBC miniseries was quite simplistic considering its subject matter. Apart from being about lesbianism, it was staged, acted, produced and kind of over-explained like a Disney movie would be.

It tells the story of Nancy Astley, a simple girl from England's coast in the 19th century, where a sheltered life as an oyster farmer's daughter means she can't explain the strange feelings she has. Or rather, the lack of them when she lays with the local boy who's taken a fancy for her.

Nan understands love when the feeling she's always read and heard about strikes her like a thunderbolt while watching visiting London male impersonator cabaret performer Kitty (Hawes) on stage.

Over the next few nights Nan is in a whirlwind of excitement and doubt as she sees every performance of Kitty's tour, and soon becomes a fixture backstage with the songstress. When it comes time for Kitty to return to the city, she asks Nan to go with her so the two can be a double act.

Nan's horizons expand exponentially as they two become the toast of London and also become lovers. But when Kitty goes against her true nature and breaks Nan's heart, the young woman flees into London, lost and alone. There begins a Huck Finn-like series of adventures and misadventures, from the heights of luxury and privilege as the sex slave of a powerful society woman to the lows of a rentboy in disguise, giving blowjobs to elderly men.

It's a bizarre blend of bawdy and innocent. The topic is obviously extremely liberal, and the language and visuals sometimes match it, resulting in several love scenes that could easily be termed softcore porn.

But it's all delivered so straight and down the line by Stirling's no nonsense and honest voiceover and the script's relative clumsiness as she seesaws from one predicament to the next that you're almost tricked into thinking it's a kids movie.

Despite these (they feel like flaws, but they aren't acute enough), the production design and camerawork is gorgeous, although somewhat constrained by the TV format.

The stunning Hawes went on to play the leading lady in Frank Oz's hilarious Death at a Funeral but I haven't seen the pretty and pointed Stirling since.

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