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Before anyone watches this film they should probably know that it in no way attempts to tell the story of Giacomo Casanova; instead this is a fictionalised account of a specific period in Casanova’s life.  It’s full of historical inaccuracies, but it’s clearly not trying to present any semblance of truth, and instead is more a comedy of errors, with plenty of visual gags.

In essense, the infamous seducer Casanova (Heath Ledger) is ordered to wed a virgin, or else be arrested on crimes of fornication.  He quickly proposes to a young girl who is smitten with him, but then he meets the headstrong and intelligent Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller) and falls for her.  However, she is not aware of his true identity, and to complicate matters, she is engaged to a distant relative who she has never met.  Casanova pretends to be the fiance, while in the meantime, the young girl who he previously became engaged to is the object of affection for Francesca’s brother – who also has no idea of Casanova’s real identity.  Sounds complicated, but on the screen it all plays out well, with plenty of moments of humour.  Throughout all this, Bishop Pucci (Jeremy Irons) is on Casanova’s tail and is also trying to find a famous heretical writer – but further identity mix ups get in the way…!

The film is strictly played for laughs and on the whole it works well.  Heath Ledger looks nothing like how I would expect Casanova to look, but he plays the role well and with considerable charm – and looks like he’s having great fun doing it.  Jeremy Irons seems to positively revel in playing the evil Bishop who wants to capture and kill Casanova, and Oliver Platt is also wonderful as Francesca’s unknown fiance.  Omid Dajlili plays Lupo, Casanova’s manservant, and provides many laughs.  Mention should also be made of Lena Olin, as Francesca’s mother.  She was very funny and looked absolutely beautiful.  The only slightly weak link in the cast was Sienna Miller, who was never really convincing enough as the feisty woman who Casanova falls for.  However there was plenty enough in the film to make up for that.

Venice itself looked gorgeous, and is shown off to its best effect here (it made me want to visit there!), and the costumes were also terrific.  The classical musical score, including some of Vivaldi’s work was perfect for the film, and so nice in fact that I would like to buy the soundtrack to the film.

This film is basically an old fashioned romp through 18th century Venice.  Low on accuracy, but high on laughs with a smattering of romance (although the emphasis is definitely on comedy), and a nice twist at the end.  Overall, an enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours.

Year of release: 2005

Director: Lasse Hallstrom

Writers: Jeffrey Hatcher, Kimberley Simi, Michael Cristofer

Main cast: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Oliver Platt, Jeremy Irons, Lena Olin, Omin Djalili

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As a 13 year old living in Venice in 1782, Cecilia Cornaro is seduced by the famous Casanova, and becomes a long term lover of his. Their relationship lasts until Casanova’s death. Twenty five years later, and Cecilia is a renowned and respected portrait artist working in Albania, when she meets arrogant young poet Lord Byron and the two begin a turbulent relationship. As Cecilia progresses through life, the memories of her two relationships will have a lasting effect on her.

The first part of the book focuses on Cecilia’s relationship with Casanova. Here, the famous lothario is portrayed sympathetically, as a mischievous but not malicious man, and one who is certainly capable of feeling true love and compassion.

The second part of the book focuses on Cecilia’s relationship – such as it is – with Lord Byron. Byron comes across as a thoroughly dislikeable man, who was arrogant, childish and constantly in search of the latest depravity, with not a thought for how much his actions cause hurt to others.

The book also focuses on how both relationships affect Cecilia and cause her to know herself and examine her life.

The characters are well drawn, and I felt that Cecilia herself was easy to empathise with. The book is told mainly from her point of view (with occasional chapters narrated by Casanova’s cat(!) and a gondolier in Venice), and the first person narrative works well in this instance, especially as Cecilia’s actions may not have been as understandable if described in the third person.

The writing itself is luscious and sensual. The descriptions of 18th and 19th century Venice are beautiful and really brought the city to life, to the extent that Venice itself was almost another character in the book. The setting for the story certainly added to the enjoyment of the reading.

It is clear that the author has done extensive research into the lives of Casanova and Byron, and many true life events are incorporated into this book (although Cecilia and her family are fictional characters). I felt that I had gained knowledge through reading this book, which is always a bonus.

The only negative comment I would make is that I did feel that the story could have been tightened up a little. Some of the events felt as if they lingered on too long, and at just over 600 pages, this was a read which I felt would have been better had it been perhaps 100 – 150 pages shorter.

Overall though, an enjoyable read, and one I would recommend to others.

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