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Lesbian Movie Reviews: Died / Recanted / Unhappy/ Came out - Tipping the Velvet

Friday, June 19, 2015 - 08:00

As part of my new blogging schedule, I've designated Friday as "review day". I don't necessarily have enough new material (books, movies, etc.) to post something new every week, but I thought I'd reprise and continue a series I started quite some time ago on lesbian-themed movies (and mini-series). I've collected enough of these in video format that if I were a more socially ept person it would be fun to hold regular movie nights, supplemented by popcorn and thematic analysis. It's definitely interesting to examine the stories through the lesbian motifs discussed in Emma Donoghue's Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature.

Back when I first posted these reviews, it was inspired by a request for recommendations of "good movies involving lesbian romances that don't end up with the protagonists deeply unhappy, dead, or both." As I noted in the first go-round, the standard lesbian pulp fiction plot contractually required either death, unhappiness, or "redemption" of at least one of the characters. And when Hollywood first began moving out of that slough of despond, it was primarily in the form of Standard Coming-Out Plot A.

So the tl;dr version of each review will be the answers to: "Died? Recanted? Unhappy? Came out?" This will necessarily involve some spoilers, but since I'm not reviewing any current releases, I think the statute of limitations has expired. The treatment of lesbian characters and relationships in film is still dire enough in general that I know I want to know what I'm getting into before engaging with a movie.

Many of these items are not currently in print. I'll link each to their entry for reference. But for those currently available, Wolfe Video is the go-to distributor for lgbt movies.

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Tipping the Velvet (2002, mini-series)

Died? No. Recanted? No. Unhappy? At various points during the story, but eventually happy. Came out? Yes, incidentally, but this is far more expansive than a simple coming-out plot.

A period piece (from the novel by Sarah Waters) about the oyster-seller's daughter who falls in love at the music hall with a male impersonator and runs away to live with her in late Victorian London. Alas, the object of her affection isn't as steadfast and true as she is, and our ingenue goes through many adventures and relationships before making the key choice that leaves her in a happy and stable couple at the end. (Note: lots of sex of all sorts of types. Not a movie for the timid.) The story arc is too expansive to pigeonhole it as a "coming out" story, although that's certainly a theme, especially at the start. No main characters die. The protagonist is happy (although not all the hearts she passes through are). But given the historic setting, the resolution can't be of the sort that a modern viewer would envision for herself.

A very lush treatment with high production values and very faithful to the original material. Definitely a must for Sarah Waters fans, if you can track down a copy.