Tipping The Velvet S1:E1 The Ballad of the Oyster Girl Recap


I haven't heard of Tipping the Velvet before, but the awesome Dixie pointed me in it's direction. The mini-series is based on the novel by Sarah Waters, which I'm planning to read after, and after doing a little reading up on the title: sounds very interesting. Rolling the first after the break!

We open with oysters (clams? Slimy things that will never be in my mouf) being cracked open, stage performances being watched and cigarettes being lit (now I want a smoke).

A woman stands on the beach, looking at the water and telling us about the oysters (they WERE oysters, should always go with first instinct, my bad) markets at Whitstable. This is Nan Anstey (Rachael Stirling) speaking and this is her sister Alice (Monica Dolan)! She'sΒ Nan's best friend and a good girl to boot. But it's not about her family, this story is about Nan. Back then she was just a baby, barely 18 and fresh faced and fast with an oyster knife. "Open an oyster and it's like a secret world in there" and that's how it was with her. If I was to describe her in the verbiage of the time, I would say she has fine eyes.

She couldn't see how her life was going to hold any surprises but holy feck, that's a 12-year-old Benedict Cumberbatch, and he's SMILING! That surprised the hell out of me! He's Freddy and I gather they're courting. And making out in boats in a really uncomfortable fashion. Good LORD he looks young, and I didn't even know that his eyes disappear when he smiles because HE'S NEVER DONE IT SINCE!

She's not quite sure what it's supposed to feel like, but at least he's not like handsy "rapid" Tony Reeves (Dean Lennox Kelly) who is after her sister. He's not just fast with his digits, he's also generous, securing everyone tickets to the show coming the following week, including Nan's Freddy (or at least he'd like to be).

The show looks like vaudeville, with circus animals and finally: Miss Kitty Butler (Keeley Hawes) who makes Nan turn her head sideways like a confused puppy.


Everything gets a little hazy then for Nan, she's transfixed by the giant eyes and fine bones of the elegant Kitty. At the end, Kitty throws a rose, one meant for Nan, we're both sure, but the skiiver behind Nan snags it instead. She decides not to watch the rest of the show, feeling odd, so Tony escorts her to a back office, asking which part she liked best? Well, Kitty Butler, of course, she'd like to see her every night! Well, there's no reason she can't, but first Tony mansplains that Nan(cy) musn't forget that Kitty isn't actually a boy, right? Pfft

Nan asks Alice how she feels when she's with Tony; about that same as Nan feels with Freddy, she supposes. But Nan doesn't feel anything much at all, so go find another! Look for someone who will have her head spinning, her legs turning to jelly and...and WHAT?? You'll find oot, Nan!

The next night, up high in the box, Nan again fails to get Kitty's rose, she leaves devastated to return home to be teased by her family. Her mother (Annie Hulley) is quiet, though, perhaps mothers always know.

Nan tries to explain it to Alice later, when Kitty walks on stage, it's as though she wants to cry and weep at the same time, she's engaged her soul. Alice doesn't want to hear about it, those performers don't lead "natural lives" and she's clearly disturbed by her sister's affection for the alluring Kitty Butler.

Freddy's pressing his case in the bottom of the boat, if she really cared for him, she'd let him do it! She says "well then, I don't care for you!" and that was THAT! Good for her! She's trying to sort out what she wants, but she's positive it's NOT Freddy, off she goes. Because if it's biology what he wants, then surely it's biology for her as well? She's confused.

We're back watching Kitty again from the box, but this time Nan gets the rose, all right, directly from Kitty's hand. She can barely breathe. She decides to go talk to Tony after that part as the show continues, ohh, he's in the back kissing another gentleman we don't know just yet. Is it wrong that I like Tony more as a gay / bisexual man, quick on his feet mentally, drawing her aside saying she was EXACTLY who he was looking for to obscure what she just saw, rather than when he was being a very Typical Young Man after Alice?

He has a message for her; someone wants to see her! Who? I BET I KNOW! he takes her backstage, leading her all the way to the back when Miss Kitty Butler's dressing room is hidden. Tony takes her inΒ  and she meets Walter Bliss on his way out, she's left alone in the room with Kitty.

Nan's so buttoned up, literally, up to her neck and down to her boots, which is in strong contrast to the elegant Kitty in an untucked tuxedo shirt with collar flipped. She's figured out that Nan there to see her work, why is that? Kitty would like to hear why, she's very vain and loves to hear nice things about herself. Nan's no help at all, she loves EVERYTHING, but especially Kitty's hair, which isn't at all like a guinea pig's hair as Gully has described thusly.

Kitty starts to clean her makeup off, then steps behind a screen to disrobe. There's a very conveniently placed mirror, though, allowing Nan a view of whoops, breasts! That's it, we have nudity and Nan just about breaks her neck trying to turn away before the nipples sear her eyelids shut or somefing.

Nan asks why she's cut her hair and dresses like a boy then? And I've spent the entire time I've been watching thinking that being a male impersonator would be really the only way for women to dress like that back then. I mean, the hair cutting alone! There are still those, in this day and age that believe that all women with short hair are lesbians (John Elliot for one) and I can't even imagine the extra pressure there would be back then.

But don't get Kitty wrong, she also likes to dress as a girl, coming out in a purple dress embroidered with the most awful lace and stuff I've seen in a long while. I MUCH preferred the previous look, so very clean and unfettered. The bottom is nicer than the top, though, but more importantly, Nan likes it, taken breathless.

Kitty and the performers are all going out for supper with Gully, now, so Nan will have to leave, but perhaps she can come back on Monday and help Kitty dress? Oh she'd like that, and as she takes her leave, Kitty holds out her hand. Nan takes it with her hand, Kitty carefully removes the glove and presses her lips to Nan's knuckles. Nan turns her head, shocked and I would put MONEY that she just felt the OTHER part that happens which her sister wouldn't elaborate upon. You know, when it feels as though someone connected a live wire to your privates. And then it gets very messy. Something like that.

She's worried she smells like a herring (hahahahaha), but no, she's a mermaid, insists Kitty, kissing her hand two more times while staring into her eyes. Wow. I think I felt that in MY parts, which is hilarious given that I've watched people actually having sex and found it less stirring. NOT THAT I WATCH INAPPROPRIATE TELEVISION OR EDUCATIONAL MOVIES.

Nan's staring out into the sea, but all she's seeing is that stolen glimpse of nipple. She became Kitty's dresser after that, and her best friend for that whole season. Tony waited back stage the once to warn Kitty "don't turn her head" and I'm pretty sure it's a bit late for that.

Nan's been dreaming of Kitty, well, I think more fantasizing, which is a tetch tricky, given that she shares a bed with Alice, but her, desperate times and all. Nan's so innocent that the sum total of her imagined sexy times involve a fully-dressed Kitty laying next to her in bed while they smile at each other, but Rome wasn't built in a weekend, they say.

She gives Kitty a tutorial on eating fresh oysters (all the herkz); while Kitty bites her lip intently. She pours the oyster and liquor into Kitty's mouth while Alice watches suspiciously. Sisters always know, mostly because they're always around and they know you before you learn to hide stuff you don't want people to know. Sisters are annoying.

Kitty gets the grand tour, ending in Alice and Nan's small bedroom in the attic. Ohhh and they're on the bed, just like in Nan's dreams. Really, Kitty just wanted to smoke, though, and she has news! And no family, but she'll explain that later. ANYWAY, she's been offered a contract in London by Walter Bliss! Nan's just bloody happy for her, yes she is! Kitty asks if Nan will come with her? Will her family let her? Nan doesn't care a whit, she loves Kitty more than anyone in the whole world and they couldn't stop her.

She pulls out the rose Kitty gave her lo those many weeks ago, when Kitty chose her, which she didn't know was choosing her very best friend ever.

Nan's family didn't try to hold her, to their credit, they could see she was set on London, and Kitty too, if anyone was looking (Alice was totally aware and NOT impressed)

London is very different from Whitstable but Walter Bliss is very friendly; "welcome to the Gay Metropolis" *snerk snerk I know, I'm twelve* bowing to the Oyster Girl, she is very welcome. It sets her at ease and they're off!

Nan drinks in all the sights, it's so very different than home! They arrive at their home in Brixton; Missus Dendy has always hosted "theatricals" like her mum before her.

Kitty and Nan are in the same bed that night, since they're sharing a room and all, cuddling up while Kitty talks FAR too much. She always wanted a sister, and now she has Nan, which is not at all what Nan was thinking. Nan wants Kitty to be her sweetheart. Sigh

Kitty's show isn't going over quite as well in London as the provinces, booing and muttering abounds and when they're not doing that, they're ignoring Kitty entirely, which devastates her. Walter reassures her, they're warming, give it until the end of the week and they will come around! There's nothing in town to compare! And so it was. Not by the end of the week, but eventually.

A few months later, Kitty and Walter are all aflutter, the manager of the Alahambra wants to meet with her, Nan gets sent off back to the room for an early night. Nan's excited on Kitty's behalf, but she doesn't exactly want her growing away from her either. Any minute they might work up to a cheek kiss. They moved awfully slowly in the Victorian era.

Back in the room by herself, Nan's practicing Kitty's act and professing her love to Kitty's reflection, her in Kitty's clothes, going so far as to kiss the mirror as Kitty herself bursts in. Kitty loves it! She thinks Nan looks more like a boy that she does! She could quite fall for a boy like her...and then she kisses Nan.

Nan doesn't want to go into the act with Kitty; who can't wait to tell Walter, but she's worried about declaring herself, she's worried that Kitty doesn't feel the same.

Walter loves the prospect of TWO ladyboys (wait, I don't think that's what that refers to: girlyboys? Okay, wait I know) or male impersonators, insisting they practice a song. He adores it, dubbing Nan shy brother Bob, and they should do something about that hair...and that's it, her hair is cut short and "now I'm like you."

I mentioned Nan's eyes before, but her lips also need a note: wow.

Rehearsal goes well, and they've built a great part in when Nan gets to kiss Kitty as part of the carrying on. It's lovely. The audience doesn't quite know what to make of that, but they like it!

They're the toast of the town now, people throwing offers at them all over the place! They're out on the town one night; Nan wants to dance with Kitty, which delights everyone. Many drinks and cigarettes later (I REALLY feel as though I should have one now), one of the musicians in the orchestra makes a run at Nan, it's Jimmy Burns (Daniel Mays) moonlighting for some extra cash. He doesn't know if he likes her better in skirts or trousers, and she doesn't either! Yay for choice! Fancy a dance?

They twirl about while Kitty watches with increasing agitation. She stomps off at the end, Nan chases after her and they end up in the carriage at odds. Kitty is jealous, furious at Nan's larking aboot but Nan presses her: if she had ANY idea. And then they're kissing, really kissing, not the gentle pecks onstage.

They're back at the room, and bare, Nan asking if she really may touch Kitty? "I think I shall die if you don't" is the answer. They make love and I'm oddly gratified by them sticking to clavicle licking, as has been forever. Vinyl and other shows got all suckle-y and it was jarring for a non-educational movie.

In the midst, Kitty finally admits "I do love you, Nan" which leaves a sated Nan content and drowsy.

The next morning, Kitty starts with saying she drank too much the night before; Nan and I are indignant: she's not welshing on their ladylove, is she?? No, but it must be a secret, their secret.

Kitty's washing up while Nan exclaims: how did Kitty not know how she felt about her? Kitty wasn't sure, it was easier to be friends (and bring up that creepy sister bit, I guess). Nan's excited, she didn't even KNOW two girls could go all the way! She'd never even heard of it! Has Kitty? But Kitty mentions other girls, which makes Nan frown for a second, but she doesn't care, she loves Kitty more than anything.

We have a montage of the show and their life together, much giggling and long looks and orgasmic moving blankets that reveals itself to be Kitty. They don't even tell Walter, but if they think they're being discreet with their eye-cuddling, they are very much mistaken. Lots of toe-curling sex is interspliced with newer parts of their act, then we're back in Whitstable with Nan.

Nan looks GORGEOUS, but she feels strange back home again, like a ghost. Her mom is very happy to see her, but Alice scours her body with her eyes, looking for evidence of difference, no doubt. They ask if she has a fella? Nan is an awful, awful liar, her voice goes up 3 whole octaves and she tears right up.

She distracts everyone with presents from London, everyone loves them but Alice, who begrudgingly opens it to reveal a beautiful hat. Alice tosses it aside, when would SHE get a chance to wear THAT?

Later, with Alice in their room, there's a distinct chill and Nan doesn't know what's going on, what's happened? Alice isn't going with Tony any more, and no, she doesn't want to talk about it. Nan takes off her wig to show off her lovely short hair, which Alice hates.

She spills it then, she loves Kitty! And Kitty loves her and she isn't the least bit frigid and Alice does NOT want to hear about that kind of thing: Nan's disgusting. Ahhh, she found out about Tony's bisexuality and it made her feel dirty. She doesn't wish Nan any harm, but she doesn't want to hear anything and she doesn't even want Nan near her. Wow. Wow. Her own sister.

Nan sits by the window instead, smoking, she doesn't want to be there any more, she wants to be with her dearest Kitty and I have a very bad feeling about her heading back early.

Ahhh and there it is; she arrives back at her room to find Kitty and Walter just cleaning up, now that's an odd match. We're oot. I mean, Kitty said she didn't mess with the bosses, she didn't play that game to keep her contract, so is it possible that Kitty's bisexual as well? And interested in a much more open relationship than Nan is, I'm guessing. Unless that's a necessity of their contract? I don't know, I imagine Victorian England was much like the Alberta oilfield circa 2000, a certain amount of grabass was expected from subordinates, at the very least, unfortunately. We shall find out next time!

A couple of notes, I was relieved that Nan got the role opposite Kitty, that would keep them together ALMOST as much as Nan wants. And I went most of the episode thinking that Kitty was the dominant partner, but now I'm wondering if it's Nan, but she may be just the more vocal. Until next time, ladies, keep tipping that velvet! Cheers!

  • Dixie M

    Yay!! I’m really glad you decided to watch & recap this series! It was great, thank you!
    As usual I was giggling throughout, which only you can do. Your whole section on the hand kiss scene has to be the best – SO funny!
    I noticed you mentioned Rachael Stirling’s facial features as being quite impressive? I wasn’t sure if you knew that Diana Rigg (The Avengers, Game of Thrones) is her Mum? 😊
    Looking forward to chatting more about the recap on Twitter I’m sure, and can’t wait for episode 2! πŸ˜†
    Oh, and your phrasing on that last line made me role up… Are you aware of what tipping the velvet means? If you are, you’re a filthy minx, Ms. Ginges! πŸ˜‚

    • Hahhahah mayyyybe….oh good! I’m glad you like! I didn’t know that about Rachael Stirling, I LOVE Diana Rigg! Lady Olenna is my fave GoT character!

      Thank you again for the suggestion!

      • Dixie M

        You’re welcome! Thank you for accepting 😁
        There was another brilliant BBC drama that followed this one, by the same author, Sarah Waters, called Fingersmith. It was only 2 episodes, and was a bit calmer than this one, more dramatic. But there’s a lot of exciting plot twists in it, and a brilliant cast (including Imelda Staunton, Sally Hawking, & Elaine Cassidy). So if you enjoy this one, you might want to check that out at some point too πŸ˜ŠπŸ‘πŸΌ

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