The lavish costume drama Dangerous Beauty is a true guilty pleasure. The chickiest of chick flicks--a soap opera, a bodice-ripping Harlequin romance, and a tart-with-a-heart-of-gold study in 16th century girl power--I loved almost every heartbreaking, lovemaking, swashbuckling minute of it.
Adapted by Jeanine Dominy from Margaret Rosenthal’s novel, The Honest Courtesan, “Dangerous Beauty” is the story of the beautiful and spirited Veronica Franco (Catherine McCormick) who falls in love with Marco Venier (Rufus Sewell), a wealthy man whose station in life prohibits him from marrying her. He instead weds a prudish woman through a marriage his family arranged. Heartbroken, Veronica turns for advice to her mother, Paola (Jacqueline Bissett), whom she learns is a former courtesan.
The Yoda of prostitution, Paola trains young Veronica in the ways of the Force, revealing the many secrets of pleasuring a man, not just sexually but as his intellectual equal. Veronica takes to poetry, music, dance and even swordplay--subjects forbidden to the meek and submissive who make good wife-fodder.
Soon, Veronica becomes the belle of the ball, and has attracted a loyal client list that reads like the Renaissance version of Heidi Fleiss’ black book: government ministers, cardinals, senators. Veronica’s new-found fame as a trollop raises Marco’s hackles, but as Veronica points out, he’s the one who married.
When The Plague strikes Venice, the same men who loved Veronica, turn on her. She is accused of harlotry and witchcraft and hauled before an Inquisition tribunal. Unfortunately, director Marshall Herskovitz and writer, Jeannine Dominy, misstep into bland courtroom theatrics. The once-beguiling Veronica becomes nearly unwatchable on her soapbox blah blah blahing about hypocrisy. The climactic scene, meant to inspire thoughts of “I am Spartacus,” instead inspires thoughts of the lame hand-clapping scenes at the end of all sports movies.
However, the sumptuous costuming, gorgeous production design, rollicking humor, and sexy romance elevate this film from forgettable melodrama to thoroughly engaging period piece. The bastard child of Merchant-Ivory, Dangerous Beauty is imminently enjoyable.