- Catherine McCormack as Veronica Franco
- Rufus Sewell as Marco Venier
- Oliver Platt as Maffio Venier
- Jacqueline Bisset as Paolo Franco
- Fred Ward as Domenico Venier
- Moira Kelly as Beatrice Venier
- Naomi Watts as Giulia De Lezze
Taking basis from the true story of 16th Century courtesan and poet Veronica Franco, Dangerous Beauty is an underrated movie that finds a somewhat inspiring and passionate tale in the journey of a trailblazer who gained both respect and scorn.
16th Century Venice: women are seen as property and marriage has nothing to do with love, more for the sake of duty and money. Veronica Franco is a beautiful young girl with a passion for verse and desire for learning. She is of lowly birth, yet has a kittenish disposition that covers this. Young and passionate Veronica is in love with Senator’s son Marco Venier, and he returns that love. Yet due to the fact that she is of inferior birth and that her family can’t provide a dowry, the two can never marry. Devastated by this knowledge, she is consoled by her mother Paolo. Her mother then gives Veronica a talk on a path to that could liberate her to a comfortable existence. The profession in question is being a courtesan. Hearing this surprising advice from her mother, Veronica recoils at first at the idea of selling her body for profit. But once she hears that courtesans can have a sense of influence and rights to an education, she takes note. Forsaking her love for Marco, Veronica transforms due to her burgeoning intelligence and drive into a courtesan of which she becomes greatly renowned. Veronica finds her fortunes changing and her reputation growing, both for better and for worse in some quarters. She gains respect from a lot of people higher up the social ladder, yet earns the hate of ladies who see that their husbands could very well be Veronica’s clients. Her poetry flourishes and though the world that she inhabits is male-dominated, through her intellect and passion she gets a foothold in society. Yet Veronica, while gaining independence, craves the love of Marco secretly yet understands the precariousness of standing. Fate has other plans however as war brews, plague arrives and the Inquisition takes residence in Venice. Veronica is forced to testify in court about her life, to which she shows her mettle and takes aim at the hypocrisy of society in unconventional style.
A film like Dangerous Beauty had the potential to be overly sleazy and trashy, so it’s good that it steers clear of both by way of confident and understanding direction. Marshall Herskovitz has this innate ability to sympathise with the characters, mainly in the case of Veronica. He doesn’t pass judgement on her despite the profession she embarks on, portraying her more as a girl who takes the initiative in order to prosper in a world that is obsessed with social standing and class. A script filled with drama, romance and wittiness, stands Dangerous Beauty in good stead as it busts apart the hypocritical attitudes of the time and especially the burdens on women in general. The parts of humour, provided mostly by Veronica and her excellent way with words, moves the story along with a brisk pace that doesn’t scrimp on the deeper parts of the story either. Now with Dangerous Beauty being a film about a courtesan, there is a sexual tone to the movie. Yet as sensuality is presented, it is done in a way that isn’t just about naked bodies and sweating. Sex is a power play in a sort of way in Dangerous Beauty, exposing how women were looked at in the time but how Veronica switched it up with her untamed personality. There are some areas where the film can be a little uneven, but Dangerous Beauty is not harmed by this thankfully as its story and execution remain intact. Beauty is glimpsed through the vast array of colour that features heavily, the visual department really knock it out the park recreating 16th Century Venice. An expressive score encompasses the humour, drama and passion on display with beautiful shifts in emotional levels.
Catherine McCormack delivers a splendid performance here as the soul of the film. Imbuing Veronica with a keen intention to learn, seductiveness and later outspoken feeling, she truly is a marvel. Boasting a beauty yet a heart and desire, you can’t quite take your eyes off her. Plus, her interpretation of the often witty and poetic words Veronica speaks are both fun and refreshing. McCormack is simply like a breath of fresh air, boasting the right temperament and conviction for the part of a woman who refused to be compromised by chains and retained dignity. The character of Veronica Franco is supposed to stand out and man does Catherine McCormack do just that. Rufus Sewell exhibits a sensitivity and sense of conflict within nobleman Marco, who knows that he loves Veronica but is obliged by duty to marry someone else. We witness the stiffening of his backbone as Dangerous Beauty commences and he begins to change. One of the biggest stand outs after McCormack is Oliver Platt. He essays the role of Marco’s cousin who isn’t as well off as he and whose jealousy burns that Veronica’s poetry flourishes with a chance of money while his dwindles. Although the character is a wastrel, there are many notes of tragedy to him. Jacqueline Bisset is simply terrific as the extremely wise mother who instructs her daughter into the ways of a courtesan under her watchful eye. She boasts a delightfully observant cynicism that has been shaped through her years as a young woman in a male-dominated world and the way in which she can educate her daughter in how to gain something. Then we have Fred Ward who clearly has a ball with the role of Marco’s uncle, playing him with a wily understanding of his nephew’s needs and a genuine respect for Veronica, where others scorn her. Though largely in the background for a lot of Dangerous Beauty, Moira Kelly comes into her own later on with a scathing attack on the unfair treatment of women in society. And look out for an early role from Naomi Watts as the timid and dutiful wife chosen for Marco.
A satisfying and beautifully rendered drama of one woman and her integrity, Dangerous Beauty is sumptuous, fresh and at times quite funny. I greatly advise people to see this film as it is a pretty underappreciated one in my eyes.