First things first. The term tipping the velvet, apparently, is old English slang for cunnilingus. Tipping The VelvetÂ -“ the BBC2 drama series about to become the talk of dyke Sydney -“ is not just about cunnilingus, although there is a fair bit of it going on.
Adapted from the raved-about Sarah Waters novel of the same name, Tipping The VelvetÂ is the story of a simple young girl’s dive into the depths of the London lesbian scene in the late 1890s.
It’s a remarkable place to be a dyke, the late 19th-century London of Waters’s imagination. And we can be fairly confident of its accuracy -“ the author was in the middle of a PhD on gay and lesbian literature (including private letters and journals) of the era when she wrote the novel.
In the three-part series starting on ABC TV next week, Nan Astley (played by Rachael Stirling, daughter of The Avengers’ Dianne Rigg) starts as a simple oyster girl from the strange seaside town of Whitstable. She lives with her loving family, including sister and bedmate Alice.
When Nan heads to the Whitstable’s Music Hall she comes across hot cross-dresser Kitty Butler (Keeley Hawes) who dresses in tuxedos and performs suggestive songs about women. When Nan sees Kitty on stage she realises why she has become so bored with her fisherman boyfriend.
Yes, Kitty and Nan fall in love. And yes, they fall apart. And how. Nan ends up on the streets, into the sex industry -“ as a rent boy -“ and then in the home and arms of the older, predatory perve Diana (Anna Chancellor from Four Weddings And A Funeral). Diana dresses her in the best boys’ clothes and takes her to the most glamorous functions on the way to almost completely destroying her with excess, sex and more sex. And then, finally, Nan finds love.
It’s a simple story when condensed into so few words, but Tipping The Velvet is not simple television. It is lavish in both production and script, and the elements of corniness that come from such a girl meets girl, girl loses girl, girl meets girl story are outweighed by its extreme sexiness.
Hot girl-on-girl sex is not the point to this series, as such -“ essentially it’s a classic coming of age tale with a lesbian twist. But one of the main differences between TippingÂ and all of those other of-interest-to-lesbians films is the success of its sex scenes. There is no body painting, or sex in the shower rooms, and there isn’t very much tearing off of clothes and fucking with wild abandonment.
Instead, this series offers genuine seduction and desire -“ the desire between the women is the kind that could make a hardened Darlinghurst girl blush. When Kitty says I think I shall die if you don’t to Nan when they are finally in each other’s arms, it’s easy to believe her.
Tipping The VelvetÂ has received some mixed mainstream reviews, but I’ve never heard of a girl-loving girl who didn’t dig it.
Tipping The VelvetÂ will screen on the ABC over three weeks, starting 9: 30pm on Wednesday 11 June.