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Dangerous Beauty

By Vladimir V. Zelevinsky
Staff Reporter

Directed by Marshall Herskovitz

Written by Jeannine Dominy, based on the biography The Honest Courtesan by Margaret Rosenthal

With Catherine McCormack, Rufus Sewell, Oliver Platt, Jacqueline Bisset, Moira Kelly, and Fred Ward

Dangerous Beauty has all the trimmings and trappings of a romance novel: a gorgeous period location (16th century Venice), a beautiful and spirited female lead (Catherine McCormack as Veronica Franco), a handsome love interest (Marco Venier as Rufus Sewell), resplendent costumes and sets filmed glowing with golden light, and a romance plot which keeps the heroes apart by throwing at them every single obstacle that comes to mind. In order to stay together, Franco and Sewell must combat class inequality, financial disparity, jealousy, marriage of convenience, war, plague, and the Holy Inquisition. This story sounds overwhelming, but it is pulled off with such skill and conviction that the audience is quite entertained throughout

Veronica is young, smart, and beautiful, but she is also poor. This fact, in the year 1583 or so, makes is impossible for her to marry her much richer and much more noble sweetheart Marco. The option of going to a convent does not appeal to Veronica, so she chooses something diametrically opposite: She becomes a courtesan - a sort of a high-paid prostitute for noblemen. Paradoxically, this gives her as much freedom a woman can have in Venetian society and makes her truly an equal to men.

Veronica proves her equality by writing poetry, having her say in political matters, and engaging in both wordplay and swordplay with equal grace. The notion of promiscuity being liberating (in general sense) is never mentioned explicitly, but is quite startling and worth pondering.

If Dangerous Beauty took itself a bit more seriously, however, it could have been a bit better. The romance gloss is fine as long as it doesn't distract from the story. In addition, some grave themes, like the plague epidemic and the the encounter with the dangerously unstable monarch, are not used as anything beyond convenient plot points. They deserved to be treated with more gravity. However, the movie is easy on the eyes (especially McCormack's performance, which is quite extraordinary), and challenging to the brain, which is quite an achievement.