Brit Picks: “Casanova”

Written by Sarah Townsend August 18, 2011



“Look at it this way; if you could do what I could do, then you’d do it too!  But you can’t!  I can, and I have, and I’ll do it again. So, you should be happy for me, just a tiny bit, don’t you think?  And you, sir, just consider; you love your wife.  I love your wife!  Aren’t we both on the same side?” – Casanova

We’ve all heard the name Casanova before. Filmed in 2004 at the same time as the forgettable Heath Ledger and Sienna Miller movie, a lesser known but much better viewing alternative was produced;  the BBC miniseries ‘Casanova’, also based on the life and conquests of 18th century adventurer, Giacomo Casanova.  With a superb cast, a slightly scampish Casanova, and a surprising amount of heart in a story about the most infamous womanizer in the world, this is truly a treat to watch.

Brought to life by Russell T. Davies (Doctor Who) the plot is written in a flashback manner with a now aged librarian by the name of Casanova (Peter O’Toole) telling a servant girl (Rose Byrne) the story of his life.  Although Davies takes fictional liberties with the story it is still based quite heavily on Casanova’s own 12 volume memoirs Histoire de ma vie and many events that Casanova claims to have happened in his life are included.

Peter O'Toole as the aging Casanova

Casanova begins with recently orphaned Edith (Byrne) working at a castle.  Having been educated by her father she becomes aware of the possibility that the old librarian Casanova may in fact be the Giacomo Casanova, thought by many to be dead.  Taking a special interest in him she and Casanova embark on an unlikely relationship in which they take care of and challenge each other equally as the haunted Casanova slowly tells the story of his life.

We briefly see Casanova as a child, the unloved and neglected mute son of an actress whom he watched bed many men while his father was at home.  Eventually left by his mother, he goes to school, still mute, until he discovers…well he’s Casanova.  Then brilliant and 21 years old, we meet Casanova (David Tennant) in Venice, looking to make a name for himself.

The master of seduction. It works *thud*

Through intelligence, trickery and out right lying, Casanova and his manservant (Shaun Parkes) bluff their way into Italian society.  Of course, as in all Casanova stories, there is the girl that got away.  The already engaged Henriette (Laura Fraser), the real Casanova’s deepest love, catches Giacomo’s eye nearly as soon as we meet him and he quite strikes her fancy as well.  The miniseries then becomes about Casanova’s conflicts with her fiance Grimani (Rupert Penry-Jones) as well as his journey through Europe, and yes, other women and one man,  Belino (Nina Sosanya), on his quest to somehow reach Henriette.

Peter O’Toole, Rose Byrne, Shaun Parkes, Rupert Penry-Jones and Laura Fraser all do a remarkable job with the material but the show undeniably belongs to Tennant.  Still largely unknown here, he’s been my favourite actor for years.  His portrayal of Casanova was the reason for his casting in Doctor Who which then made him a household name in Britain, and several homes in North America.  This Casanova isn’t handsome in the hunky, muscled sense, nor is he the roguish scoundrel who beds women at every corner. He is all about personality; hyper alive, talky, quirky, charming, friendly, intelligent, impulsive, bouncy, and entirely impossible to not love at least a little, despite his selfishnes. He has all the best lines and ultimately makes the miniseries.  He’s not too bad to look at either though, let’s be honest here.

Casanova and Henriette's first meeting.

This Casanova does bed women, many, many women but strangely and luckily, considering who he is it isn’t what is centrally focused on.  A deeply flawed character, perhaps the most brilliant part of this miniseries is that, without being predictable, the viewer must watch with trepidation as Casanova’s tragedy unfolds as he makes the same mistakes that his mother did.  He is the peppy, loveable underdog and even as we see O’Toole’s Casanova, alone, we hope that somehow, this will not be Tennant’s Casanova’s fate – and perhaps it won’t be.

The sets and costumes are absolutely gorgeous even when artistic liberties are used to highlight different areas of Europe and Casanova’s lingering influence on the places and people he visits.

"It's practically the distillation of my life so far - I've become famous simply for being outrageous" - Casanova

This comedy drama made me laugh out loud, nod along in agreement, cringe, and then tear up in all the right places. I thoroughly recommend purchasing this miniseries.  In Britain in 2005 it played in 3 parts, each an hour in length.  On DVD in Canada it is presented in 2 parts, each an hour and a half long.

 My Rating: 8.5/10

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About Sarah Townsend

Sarah Townsend

Sarah Townsend: Senior Television Editor of We Eat Films and writer of the Brit Picks column. A fourth year English and History student at UWO, future plans include travelling with the Doctor in his TARDIS whenever he finds me. I'm still waiting...

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