Dangerous Beauty - * * * 1/2*

Dangerous Beauty

Marshall Herskovitz directs this alternatively comic and earnestly serious period piece based on the biography of a famous 16th century poet/courtesan, Veronica Franco.

As a girl, Veronica Franco (Catherine McCormack) has only eyes for Marco Venier (Rufus Sewell). Yet fate schemes to keep them apart. For, you see, this is 16th century Venice, where marriage is a political tool, and women are little more than property, their worthiness judged by their dowry. Marco comes from a high standing political family, and Veronica, alas, is poor.

However, there is a way out for Veronica. Her mother (Jacqueline Bisset) gives her the option of becoming a high-class prostitute, a courtesan, as she once was herself. Although it may seem appalling at first, the courtesan dwells amid luxury, freedom and riches. And (the point which wins Veronica over) courtesans are the only women in which education is encouraged, since they are the confidants and bedtime advisors of nobles and generals.

By taking this path, rather than following her friend, Beatrice (Moira Kelly), into the sheltered life of an arranged marriage, Veronica hopes to be Marco’s lover, since she can’t be his husband. But will Marco be accepting of the love of a courtesan?

Dangerous Beauty is at its best when it is lighthearted, a mood which dominates most of the film. However, there are moments, particularly in the film’s finale, when the film’s tone shifts to one of deadly seriousness. At such times, the dreadful self-importance threatens to overwhelm the film. Luckily, they don’t make up the bulk of the film. As long as you have an open mind about the film’s subject matter, the playful attitude of Dangerous Beauty wins out.

Catherine McCormack delivers a splendid performance as Veronica, believably running the gamut from innocent to…not so innocent, with an appropriate mix of inquisitiveness and longing. Though Rufus Sewell turns in a decent performance as her would-be lover, Oliver Platt steals the show as his penniless friend, Maffio, who engages Veronica in a battle of wits, while he secretly longs for her.

The film faithfully recreates 16th century Venice, with some stunning vistas along the canals. The beautiful scenery helps to enhance the atmosphere which made Venice one of the most decadent cities of its time.

Dangerous Beauty is anything but the stuffy period drama a cursory look might curse it to seem. As a lighthearted and funny look (most of the time) at 16th century mores, the movie is a delightful sweet to savor.

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