Garbo’s Mata Hari just looks peculiar

It seems like it should be a great story. First World War. Female spy using sex to steal secrets. Executed in the end. Amidst all that? The devious user of love for espionage falls in love herself (as the movies would have it). The result, however, is not so much great as peculiar.

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An unapologetic and satisfying romance

A friend kept telling me how much she loved this movie. I knew nothing about it but a few years ago I saw it and picked it up. I took it home, put it in the DVD player and was very happy I did.

This is a good, fun movie.

Dangerous Beauty (1998)

Directed by Marshall Herskovitz

What’s a girl to do? It’s 16th century Venice, wealth and politics determine the marriage bed and, with a father having squandered the family fortune away on drink, a sad match with a old man is the best a woman of few means can do.

Unless, of course, she becomes a courtesan, which is what Veronica Franco, played exquisitely by Catherine McCormack, decides to do in Dangerous Beauty.

By turns sexy, romantic and even bawdy, and generously flavoured with an almost melodramatic quality at times, Dangerous Beauty is a marvelously entertaining film that, when all is done, is ultimately an unapologetic and satisfying romance.

But unlike many costume romances, the movie does not choose to make the lead female character a damsel in distress awaiting a dark rugged hero to sweep her off her feet and carry her off to some ill-defined happily-ever-after. No, Veronica is the architect of her fate.

And Rufus Sewell as Marco Venier, the handsome if somewhat wishy-washy object of her affections, gets to go along.

The movie works so well for several reasons. First of all, it is what it is, meaning it knows it is a romance and follows those conventions faithfully. However, it manages to go beyond them by toying with them, such as making Veronica a much stronger character than the form normally possesses.

And the Veronica character, as played by Catherine McCormack, is the ultimate key to the film’s success.

McCormack manages a nuanced performance that captures a cornucopia of emotional shadings that enunciate the character perfectly — strength, uncertainty, sauciness, love, sensuality and the steady-eyed determination of youth, among others.

I just love the mischievous grin she gets, particularly in her earlier scenes with Rufus Sewell. There is a completely disarming combination of youth and playfulness in it.

Sewell is also good, as he always is, despite a role that is quite difficult to play — the hero is not quite a hero, the man who disrupts his life due to his conflict between his love of Veronica and his sense of duty.

There is also a wonderful performance by Jacqueline Bisset as Paolo, Veronica’s somewhat stern and determined mother.

It is she who introduces Veronica to the life of the courtesan (and from whom, in the back story, we can probably assume Veronica gets her own strength of will).

In the end, Dangerous Beauty is a great romance and adventure. It’s sexy too. While it may have a bit of a costumed soap opera quality to it, that’s fine because it works, engaging us in its story from the very start.


As far as I know, there is just the one version of Dangerous Beauty on DVD and, while passable, it’s a bit of a disappointment. The image is soft and I found the lack of a crisp image frustrating.

The story, however, is strong enough that you can convince yourself you can live with it. But I would certainly like to see a better presentation of the movie at some time in the future.

If they ever do, they might also want to think about including some special features. Other than some text “Production Notes” that are pretty scant, there are no special features here.

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