Tipping the Velvet [2002]

"It's Pride and Prejudice with dirty bits." That's how screenwriter Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones' Diary), in an interview contained on this disc, describes his adaptation of Sarah Waters's acclaimed novel of lesbian love, betrayal, and redemption in Victorian England. This three-part BBC production chronicles with relish the story of Nan Astley (Rachael Stirling, the ravishing image of her mother, Diana Rigg), barely 18, and certain that life holds more for her than her oyster girl's existence. "You'll meet someone who'll have your head spinning and your legs turning to jelly," her sister promises. That someone surprisingly turns out to be "gay and bold" Kitty Butler (Keeley Hawes), a music-hall entertainer, with whom Nan falls instantly, and swooningly, in love. Nan follows her to London, where, as a double act, they become the toast of London, until Kitty's "marriage of convenience" breaks up the act and Nan's heart. The outcast Nan, decked out in Victor/Victoria duds, becomes a streetwalker, and then "tart" to the aptly named Diana Leatherby (Anna Chancellor). This affair, too, comes to "a bad end" as a destitute Nan is deposited back on the streets, where she insinuates herself into the lives of Florence (Jodhi May), a social worker, and her socialist brother. Is Nan "too spoiled and stained for love?" Will she risk her blossoming relationship with Florence when Kitty inevitably returns to rekindle their affair? There is enough "backbiting and bitching" to fuel several seasons of The O.C. Nan's couplings, while tastefully done, do carry what Waters, in the co-interview with Davies, calls "a queer erotic charge." They are graphic by Cinemax standards, let alone the BBC. But the sterling writing and performances will captivate even the most sensitive viewers, making this groundbreaking miniseries, to quote one character, "a delightful evening... a rare treat." --Donald Liebenson

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