Netflix just put Dangerous Beauty in its rotation as a new arrival. This 20 year old film was a treat. It’s based on the true story of a real, very badass, woman.
Catherine McCormack stars as the young Venetian, Veronica Franco. The time was 1538. Veronica fell in love with Marco Venier (Rufus Sewell) but could not marry him. She had no dowry. He had to marry a rich woman. Rather than marry someone rich herself, she took a course suggested by her mother (Jacqueline Bisset) and supported her family as a courtesan. Her choices for survival were scullery maid, nun, or courtesan.
Courtesan it was.
Veronica took to the role and was very successful at it. The men adored her, valued her opinion, and celebrated her poetry. The wives envied her and her freedom. Most wives felt invisible, inconsequential, and unimportant. Their only purpose was to give men strong sons.
Courtesans enjoyed unique privileges in that time. While most women were illiterate, courtesans learned everything. Veronica composed poetry better than a man. She discussed affairs of state with the men who governed the Republic. Veronica convinced King Henry of France (Jake Weber) to help Venice in a war against the Turks.
At the same time as the war raged, the plague hit Venice. “Sinners” were renounced as the cause of all the deaths. Religious zealots, including Maffio Venier (Oliver Platt), saw to it that the church charged her with witchcraft. Her trial was compelling and dramatic. In the end, her brilliant mind and her bravery saved her, along with help from her lover Marco and other citizens of Venice.
Marco loved her, but had to marry Giulia De Lezze (Naomi Watts). He always had Veronica’s heart, and finally won her hand, even though he remained married to someone else.
Dangerous Beauty was based on a novel by Margaret Rosenthal, and is an interesting example of the devotion and awe a powerful woman can evoke. And fear. The term feminist hadn’t been invented then, but Veronica Franco was one.
Veronica story, and especially her trial by inquisition, reminded me of the story of Juana Inés. Both were smart women who refused to bend to the rules of men. Both were forced to stand before a group of judgemental religious men of power to defend themselves.
There were some explicit sex scenes and some nudity as well as some crude sexual language and images, but it was in keeping with the circumstances of the story. Dangerous Beauty is very much a woman’s story and a delightful Netflix find for me, because I didn’t see it when it first came out. If you missed it the first time round, I suggest you give it a try now.