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Film / Dangerous Beauty

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Dangerous Beauty is a 1998 American biographical drama movie directed by Marshall Herskovitz that explores the life of Veronica Franco (Catherine McCormack), a courtesan in Venice in the 16th century who at first becomes a hero but later becomes a target by the Church for witchcraft.

The film also stars Rufus Sewell, Oliver Platt, Fred Ward, Naomi Watts, Moira Kelly, Jacqueline Bisset, and Jeroen Krabbé.

It was released on February 20, 1998.

Tropes for the film:

  • Altar Diplomacy: Veronica took up her profession because social custom dictates that she, a commoner, cannot marry her beloved, a powerful nobleman. Later, he lets her know that he is getting married to someone else, the daughter of another powerful nobleman, whose influence would be very helpful to the city-state. They still manage to be together because he is her favorite client.
  • Be a Whore to Get Your Man: Marco Venier refuses to marry Veronica Franco because her family has no money for a dowry. Unable to marry well without a dowry, Veronica has no way to support herself except by becoming a courtesan, literally a whore. Marco eventually persuades her to become his mistress, and they live happily ever after (his wife is less happy about that).
  • Betty and Veronica: Due to her strict, "proper" upbringing, Marco's pious and boring wife is the Betty to the cultured, witty and exciting Veronica.
  • Erotic Eating: Learning this is a major part of Veronica's training as a courtesan. Later on, when the wives of several prominent Venetians ask her why their husbands keep going back to her, this forms part of her answer.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: The wives of Veronica's clients are understandably jealous of her, and see her as a corrupting influence on their husbands. At the same time, they resent the power, knowledge and independence she has acquired through her trade, and are clearly very uncomfortable when they are forced to come to her for news on the war.
  • The Mistress: Veronica becomes this to Marco after having been a courtesan.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Veronica Franco is a Venetian courtesan, or high-class prostitute. At one point in the movie, she — [ahem] — "persuades" the king of France to lend Venice the warships needed for war with the Turks. In Real Life, she did have a liaison with King Henri III, but it probably wasn't of quite that much diplomatic importance.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Happens to both Veronica Franco and Marco Venier. The film portrays Franco as bravely standing up to the Inquisition (which receives a major Historical Villain Upgrade) at her trial for witchcraft, and portrays Venier as being desperately in love with her, and defending her from the Inquisition, and persuading the rest of the Venetian Senate to do so as well. In reality, Veronica Franco was never in any real danger from the Inquisition. They tried her twice for witchcraft and let her go without punishment after she testified to performing rituals solely as entertainment. In fact, the Inquisition regarded accusations of witchcraft as silly superstition, and acquitted accused witches as a matter of course. The film also, in an earlier scene, depicts Franco as a heroine of the Venetian Republic for persuading the king of France, by being just that good in bed, to ally with Venice against the Turks. In real life, King Henry III of France did sleep with Fanco when he visited Venice to negotiate the alliance, but that had nothing to do why he allied with Venice.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The film depicts Veronica Franco as being accused of witchcraft and being tried by the Roman Inquisition. That really did happen. The film, however, also depicts the Inquisition as frothing-at-the-mouth witch-hunters determined in advance not only to convict Franco, but prepared to believe that Venetian society was rife with witchcraft, and eager to conduct mass burnings of witches. This portrayal of the Inquisition as lunatic witch-hunters is quite common and appears in many works. It is also totally false. In reality, the official position of the Catholic Church was that accusations of witchcraft were almost invariably superstitious nonsense; the Church generally tried to suppress witch-hunts. When the Inquisition did investigate charges of witchcraft and put suspected witches on trial, it was almost always because public hysteria had broken out, and some person, such as Veronica Franco, had been accused, and the Church wanted to put a stop to the nonsense before things got out of hand. By conducting an official investigation and clearing the accused, the Church could usually calm the situation and end the panic. The real witch-burning hysteria in Europe occurred in predominantly Protestant northern Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. So while Dangerous Beauty correctly portrays the Inquisition as dismissing the charges against Franco, it also portrays this as an incredible occurrence resulting from the heroic intervention of the entire Venetian senate. In reality, it was almost a Foregone Conclusion that the Inquisition would dismiss the charges, or acquit her, because that's what the Inquisition normally did with witchcraft charges. Heresy charges definitely were another story, however.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Veronica is portrayed as this; she is also a High-Class Call Girl, since she was, after all, a Venetian courtesan and poetess, although it must be pointed out that she seems to have no sympathy at all for Giulia de Lezze, whose only crime seems to be to have married Marco Venier, Veronica's lover, and to resent it when her husband openly keeps Veronica as his mistress.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: This is Veronica's justification for why she became a courtesan: "I repent there was no other way open to me. I do not repent my life."
  • My Girl Is a Slut: Played with. Veronica is a courtesan, and has many lovers over the course of her career. One of those lovers, Marco Venier, really is in love with her and wants her to be his alone. She eventually agrees to be his mistress and not to sleep with any other men anymore but gets called out of retirement to sleep with King Henri III of France to win his support for Venice's war against the Ottomans. Marco, as he says, "cannot bear it".
  • Sex for Services: Veronica has sex with King Henry III of France in exchange for French naval support in Venice's war against the Turks. After one night with her, he returns to his royal barge to leave the city, sits down very gingerly on a cushion, and tells the Doge "You'll get your ships." The entire Venetian crowd cheers wildly. Talk about doing your patriotic duty.
  • Sex Is Liberation: Veronica confesses that she "embraced a whore's freedom over a wife's obedience." The idea that Veronica, as a courtesan, enjoys much more freedom, resources, and power than do the wives of Venice's aristocrats is one of the main themes of the film.
  • Single Mom Stripper: The film is about a 16th-century woman who becomes a courtesan to support herself and her mother.
  • Sleeps with Everyone but You: Veronica sleeps with a very high percentage of the Venetian aristocracy, but refuses Maffio Venier, since he cannot afford her. He resents this, which becomes very important to the plot later.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: The film portrays high-class 16th-century Venetian prostitution in a glowing light. There's a scene where lower class prostitutes are shown to be in desperate shape, but for the most part, prostitution is looked upon as a way to empower intelligent women, allowing them to interact with wealthy men on their own terms. Of course, the film totally overlooks the fact that its main character had, in the Real Life story this movie was based on, six kids with her high class lover. Oh, and also, the earliest, most virulent form of syphilis was raging through Italy at the time, making prostitution a dangerous gamble. However, Veronica does caution a friend who thinks her daughter becoming a courtesan is a good way to get an education and independence against romanticizing this, as it's easy for courtesans to fall from grace and into the dire straits of street prostitution.