The Honest Courtesan, directed by Marshall Herskovitz, is delightful old tosh. Set in Venice, it has lush, sexy costumes, squidgy photography, sunny back-lighting and swelling violins. As if that wasn’t enough, there is also cut'n'thrust sword-play, bosoms staining in their corsets, horses cantering in valleys, jolly bateaux decked in scarlet and gold, doggerel, oops I mean poetry, a duel where the heroine whips her skirt off to reveal a natty pair of breeches, and of course, lots of men in wet shirts. Yummy. The cherry on the trifle is a splendid courtroom struggle (complete with charcoal smudge on heroine's cheek) to escape the tender embrace of the Spanish Inquisition.
The film tells the true-life story of one Veronica Franco (Catherine McCormack), a historical poetry-bint who is in lurve with posh hunk Marco Venier (Rufus Sewell) and who avoids a a lifetime of prayer by opting for the glamorous, sexy, amusing career of tart to the toffs. There’s no mention of any drawbacks – apart from the Inquisition of course... oh and Oliver Platt sulking because he doesn’t get to shag anyone and has to wear a boring monk’s outfit, poor ol’ thing.
Still, he sulks terrifically convincingly, Catherine McCormack enjoys herself throughout and Rufus Sewell, whilst not quite up there with Colin Firth in the smouldering stakes, is still admirably energetic – falls in the canal, has fights, swears, sweats, drinks, shags the heroine, twitches a muscle in his cheek, punches Oliver Platt, and gets his sword out at the least provocation. All spendid stuff.
The Honest Courtesan is as corny as Kansas in springtime, no cliche is left unturned, and what's more the actors have chosen accents at random from all over the US and UK, meaning that the French Roi Henri speaks with an accent from deepest darkest Essex. (Classy, huh?) But the best bit, and the scene that makes the film really worth watching is when Jacqueline Bisset imports a naked man into the house in order to teach her daughter the tricks of the trade.
“Watch this,” she says, fondling his downstairs department with zest. “See what happens?” Everyone looks down. At which point the film cuts to a close up of the naked man’s face...