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(1998) (Catherine McCormack, Rufus Sewell) (R)

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Drama: A 16th century courtesan must deal with her unattainable love for a nobleman, as well as the admiration and then disdain of the public toward her profession.
In late 16th century Venice, Veronica Franco (CATHERINE McCORMACK) and Beatrice Venier (MOIRA KELLY) are carefree, young women. Veronica has grown up to be a stunning beauty and immediately draws the attention of Beatrice's brother, Marco (RUFUS SEWELL), who has returned after a long absence. Their affection for each other is immediate, but Marco tells her that they can't marry since they come from different classes and his must be a prearranged, politically motivated union.

Sensing that her daughter is heartbroken over this, Paola Franco (JACQUELINE BISSET) sets out to teach her the ways of being a courtesan, a prostitute for the men of rank or wealth. Awkward and initially embarrassed, Veronica soon becomes the favorite among the men of the elite class, including Marco's powerful uncle, Domenico Venier (FRED WARD). Trading sexual favors for the advantage of being a "free" and educated woman, Veronica draws the ire of Maffio Venier (OLIVER PLATT), the court wordsmith who is upset not only because she's supplanted him as the court's favorite, but also because she's turned down his romantic advances.

Although Marco has married another woman, he eventually convinces Veronica to "service" only him. Even so, war breaks out, Marco and the other men leave, and the Holy Inquisition sweeps in, turning public favor toward the courtesans into disdain. From that point on, it's questionable what will eventually happen to Veronica, Marco and their mutual love for each other.

Not unless they're fans of someone in the cast or of period romance dramas.
For some scenes of strong sexuality, and for nudity and language.
  • CATHERINE McCORMACK plays a 16th century woman who becomes a courtesan (a prostitute for the upper class) for lack of any better choices. While she does have sex with many men, she uses her position to better educate herself (a side benefit of the job), and strongly espouses the benefits of love over sex, as well as the freedom she possesses versus the confined lives of the wealthy, married women.
  • RUFUS SEWELL plays a debonair playboy who falls for a woman he can't marry. His jealously for her, however, eventually causes him to "hire" her as his personal courtesan, despite the fact that he's married (to a politically agreed upon wife).


    OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
    "Dangerous Beauty," based on the Margaret Rosenthal book "The Honest Courtesan" -- itself based on the real life "adventures" of Veronica Franco (1546-1591), an actual Venetian courtesan -- is an entertaining, albeit adult-oriented, romantic drama. Despite a few minor problems, the film comes off as an enjoyable look at a determined lady, and should please those who manage to see it (as long as they don't mind the subject matter).

    Much of the film's success is attributed to the "Romeo & Juliet" style story. While director Marshall Herskovitz (director/producer of the TV programs "My So-Called Life" and "Thirtysomething") and screenwriter Jeannine Dominy (her first script) haven't produced an exact match in plot, the film does deal with star-crossed lovers who, because of their lineage, can never marry. Of course, like that tried and true romantic drama plot, such obstacles only manage to further fuel the fire of romance and lust between them.

    What really makes the movie shine, however, are the performances from those two lead cast members, Catherine McCormack and Rufus Sewell. McCormack, Mel Gibson's ill-fated wife in "Braveheart," delivers a tremendous performance and is completely believable in her role. Often changing in appearance from a near Robin Wright look-alike, to almost looking like the real daughter of costar Jacqueline Bisset, this soon-to-be star easily carries the picture. What's really amazing is not only the range of emotions she plays, but also that we so easily accept her transformation from a carefree "schoolgirl," into a witty socialite and finally into a more hardened and wiser adult woman.

    Her costar, Rufus Sewell (1996's "Hamlet" and the recent "Dark City") also delivers a fine and equally believable performance. While he doesn't really have as major a character transformation as his better half, he does create a very sympathetic character who seems above the "playboy" escapades in which he's involved. We believe that he truly loves Veronica, and by winning over the audience's sympathy, he and McCormack make all of us root for their romance, although we're never completely sure they'll be successful.

    The rest of the performances are a mixed bag, but for the most part are good. Oliver Platt ("A Time To Kill") is often questionable in this role, but for the most part does an okay enough job so as not to be too objectionable. Fred Ward ("Tremors"), on the other hand, stands out like a sore thumb. While that sounds disadvantageous, it actually sort of works for the character he plays (a reposeful leader) and thus isn't as bad as one initially feels when seeing him in the role.

    Then there's the lovely Jacqueline Bisset who's still active in the movies and TV, although she'll probably always be best known for her role in the thriller "The Deep." She still looks great after all of these years, and does a fine job in her performance as Veronica's wise, and still sexy, mother. The remaining cast members all fit their respective parts quite nicely as well, and are believable in their roles.

    It doesn't hurt that they're nicely outfitted in well-constructed period costumes (the handiwork of designer Gabriella Pescucci) or that production designer Norman Garwood has perfectly captured 16th century Venice (at least as much as one would imagine how it looked). The long shots of the city of the canals are decent, although at times one can tell they've been faked (the film wasn't actually shot in Venice). It's funny how one can accept dinosaurs, spaceships, or other special effects as "realistic looking," but when any given reality-based effect doesn't quite look right, everyone (including us) is quick to point it out. Even so, that's a very minor objection.

    A few larger, but still not major problems show up in certain sections of the plot. Veronica and Maffio have a public duel of both words and swordplay that entertains their elite audience. It also shows the courtesan's quest to be taken seriously and to be free, both of which were quite unheard of in her day and time. Unfortunately, their repartee isn't anything special (to us) and gives those scenes a spinning wheels effect -- we know what's happening, but we're not getting anywhere particularly fast.

    Then there's the climatic court case scene where Veronica obviously stands up for what she believes in, even if it means her possible execution. The whole scene borders on something nearing ridiculous melodrama -- what with her benefactors eventually and predictably supporting her cause against the Holy Inquisition court -- yet despite our ability to see through what the film makers are trying to pull off, we're still sucked into the moment. It does manage to be quite effective and one is never quite certain how the events will eventually play out.

    Despite the minor problems, the film manages to be quite enjoyable due to the fine lead performances and a basic plot and theme that rarely fail. How can you not root for the lovers who cannot be married due to sanctions imposed by others on their romance? Unless you're the most hardened cynic, you'll find yourself falling under this film's spell, and the captivating, sympathetic characters will easily win over most everyone. If you're a fan of costume dramas, obstacle laden romances, or both, you'll probably love this film. Even if you're not, you still might find yourself enjoying this near epic romance. We give "Dangerous Beauty" a 7 out of 10.

    A film dealing with courtesans will obviously contain sexually related material, and this film is no exception. Beyond some talk and consuming of food in a sexual fashion (ie. Simulating oral sex), there are several sexual encounters with nudity, movement, and sounds. While the profanity is limited in number, there are three sexual uses of the "f" word and a few others. Since the film deals with women using sex in exchange for status, freedom, and money, younger impressionable girls might get the wrong idea. (Also, and granted this is a period piece, but there's no mention of pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases other than one brief scene). Although it's doubtful that many kids will want to see this film, you should read through the categories should you or someone in your home wish to see it.

  • Veronica and her mother drink wine.
  • Veronica and an older man drink wine, as do others around them.
  • Veronica and others drink at night.
  • Marco and others are drunk as they ride by in a gondola.
  • We see some gory-looking blisters on a man's feet and ankles.
  • Maffio's hand is a little bloody after being cut in a sword fight.
  • Veronica's mouth is a little bloody after Maffio punches her.
  • Maffio's nose has just a bit of blood running from it.
  • We see a dead body in a canal and others in piles on the streets. Other than being dead (from the plague or another disease), they aren't gory or bloody.
  • We see bloody lash marks on the backs of several women who've apparently been whipped.
  • Veronica has a few bloody scrapes on her head.
  • Obviously viewers may see the courtesans and the men who frequent them as having both. Marco, for instance, says, "God made sins so that we might know His mercy."
  • Marco's father tells him to have fun "with love," but reminds him that he can't marry Veronica due to their class differences.
  • Some may see Veronica's mother pushing her into prostitution (as a courtesan) as having both, while others may see it as the only sensible thing to do at the time (in 16th century Venice when lower class women didn't have many options).
  • Marco gets mad at Veronica for being a courtesan, and later for sleeping with a king, but does so while he's already married to another woman.
  • Some may see the film's portrayal of the Bishop also seeing Veronica as having both.
  • Some may see the belittling of the Holy Inquisition (ie. The Church) regarding the courtesans and their behavior as having both.
  • A "playful" sword fight turns more serious as Maffio really tries to injure Veronica and chases after her.
  • A visiting king throws Veronica to the bed and menacingly holds his dagger to her throat, mentioning rumors that he's a pervert.
  • Swords/Daggers: Used in a few scenes of swordplay, actual fighting, or to threaten others. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "Whore" and "Slut" (toward the courtesans), "Horny" and "Lay" (sexual), and "Bastard."
  • Veronica becomes an upper class prostitute and uses sex to further her position in society.
  • A woman spits on Veronica (after the courtesans have fallen from public favor).
  • None.
  • There are just a few scenes with only a minor amount of suspenseful music in them.
  • None.
  • At least 3 "f" words (all used sexually), 2 slang terms for male genitals (the "p" word), 3 asses and 1 use of "For God's sakes" as exclamations.
  • Many of the women's outfits reveal quite a bit of their cleavage.
  • A woman exposes her bare breasts as she rides along in a gondola.
  • Marco tells Veronica that she's too young to fully appreciate "what I have to give you" (innuendo).
  • Veronica tells Marco, "The Roman court doesn't have to sleep with him (about the older man who's just married Beatrice)," to which Marco replies, "Oh, you'd be surprised."
  • Paola sensuously eats a long strand of asparagus (ie. Simulating oral sex).
  • We see women's bare breasts in drawings and paintings.
  • We see a man's bare butt as he stands nude in front of Paola and Veronica. Veronica then looks surprised at both her mother walking up and holding the man's genitals (not seen, it occurs just off camera) and then to his implied physical reaction. Paola then briefly talks to Veronica about using one's hands and mouth for such services.
  • We see another woman's bare breasts.
  • Veronica has sex for the first time with an older man. He lies nude on top of her, and we see her bare breasts, some movement, and hear sexual sounds. The next morning Paola gives her some sort of concoction to drink to prevent/abort conception.
  • We see a dancing, bare-breasted woman.
  • After Marco mentions that he loves her with all of his heart, Veronica reaches down to his crotch and says, "The heart is higher up."
  • A man comments that he wasn't aware that another man was "still capable of getting it up."
  • Marco and Veronica have sex and we see moments of them rolling around on the bed. We also see her bare breasts and butt (with her on top of him).
  • While talking to her daughter, Paola says, "Not that you were a better lay than I was..."
  • Marco and Veronica have sex again and we briefly see her bare breasts and butt.
  • Some people talk about how a visiting president "needs a good lay."
  • A visiting King holds a dagger to Veronica's throat and mentions the rumors that he's a pervert. Veronica eventually takes the dagger away from him, but it's implied that they do have sex.
  • Responding to Marco's wife's question of why the man flock to her "like pigs to a trough," Veronica seductively swallows a whole banana (ie. Implying oral sex).
  • None.
  • Some people must deal with family members who have died (presumably from the plague or another disease).
  • Using sex to further oneself (for love, power, money, etc...). After Veronica's "first time" and after her mother shows her the money she received for it, Veronica enthusiastically asks "Who's next?"
  • Granted this is a period piece, but other than one brief scene, there's no mention of pregnancy or of sexually transmitted diseases
  • Whether marriage should be driven by romance, or, as Paola puts it, "Striking a bargain" (between a man and a woman).
  • Maffio pulls out his sword and cuts in half a book that Veronica is holding. They then get into something of a playful sword fight that then turns more serious once she slices his palm. He then determinably comes after her until they're separated. He then punches her, causing Marco to punch him.
  • A visiting king throws Veronica to the bed and menacingly holds his dagger to her throat, mentioning rumors that he's a pervert.
  • We see Marco fighting in a battle scene (and swinging his sword at others).
  • We see bloody lash marks on the backs of several women who've apparently been whipped.
  • Marco hits a person with the butt of his sword when a mob rushes toward Veronica.

  • Reviewed February 17, 1998

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