The Honest Courtesan


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Honest Courtesan
"Marshall Herskovitz, who made Legends Of The Fall into a remedy for insomnia, directs from the sitting position."

As long as the camera softens its focus on Catherine McCormack, all is well. What ruins this bargain-basement Merchant Ivory repro is the script. And the accents. "Look at her!" cries the drunken-poet-turned-born-again-evangelist (Oliver Platt), during the trial scene. "Feel her wrath!"

The story of a pretty girl in 16th century Venice, who can't marry the man she loves, because he's too aristocratic and she doesn't have political clout, is a lesson in making the most of what you've got. Veronica (McCormack) has beauty, intelligence and a clever mother (surprisingly effective Jacqueline Bisset), who used to be a courtesan - old-fashioned word for call girl - and knows how to coach her daughter in the seductive arts. Veronica loves Marco (Rufus Sewell), who has to marry a frigid prude because daddy says so.

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She throws herself into her new profession with the determination of a true professional, while tossing off volumes of verse to annoy her detractors and prove that whores are not stupid. "Eloquence in a woman means promiscuity," she is told. "Promiscuity of mind is promiscuity of the body."

Marshall Herskovitz, who made Legends Of The Fall into a remedy for insomnia, directs from the sitting position. This is a hanging-about-in-groups costume drama, not a rapier thrust, where the same stretch of water is recycled (Veronica to the gondolier: "Turn right up ahead") for scene after scene. Sewell does the best he can in constricted circumstances, but the film - what is left of it - belongs to McCormack, who gives a very fine performance, in spite of being treated as a supermodel by the make- up and lighting crews.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A Venetian who is too low-class to marry the man she loves, becomes a courtesan.
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