Fresh from a much-lauded and award-nominated turn as a rugged and secretly gay cowboy coming to terms with his love for another man in Brokeback Mountain, Heath Ledger here returns to more familiar territory, proving both his rampant heterosexuality and his great comic timing. After all, how better to demonstrate that just because you’ve played a gay cowboy doesn’t mean you’re gay than by taking on the role of the most infamous seducer of women in history?
Fans of the BBC’s TV take on Casanova’s life story from last year, starring David Tennant and Peter O’Toole, will doubtless find much familiar material here. Again, the focus is on the infamous ladies’ man’s encounter with the one woman with whom he falls in love rather than merely lust and the ensuing clashes with the Venetian authorities, epitomised here by Jeremy Irons in full-on villain mode, which get in the way of the roguish hero’s attempts to settle down.
The similarity is largely due, of course, to Casanova having been a real person, and both the BBC’s version and this new film having been loosely based upon his notoriously unreliable memoirs. As such, many of the supporting characters will also ring bells with those who saw the BBC’s take on the tale, even if their names are different.
Yet this is a far more focussed and tight adaptation than that of Doctor Who scribe Russell T Davis’ – partially due to the shorter running time, but largely thanks to a stronger emphasis on one particular aspect of Casanova’s career of seduction and fraud than the BBC’s more meandering, lifetime-spanning approach. As such, the pace is in places slower, but at the same time the supporting characters are allowed to become more fully-fleshed.
Seeing the name Lasse Hallstrom, a man most often associated with serious, often plodding movies with a message like The Cider House Rules, Chocolat and The Shipping News, in the director’s slot, you could be forgiven for assuming that this would be another of that usual sort of Oscar-hungry releases – Casanova’s life as a cautionary, serious warning about the dangers of promiscuity or similar. Thankfully, Hallstrom has managed to uncover a new facet to his undoubted directorial skills, and produces a fluffy piece of enjoyable nonsense.
It is always a relief in the pre-Oscars months to have a well-made but frivolous comedy to detract from the awards-focussed films packed with depression and “important” performances that are so common at this time of year. With Ledger’s easy charm and expert comic timing – put to superb use a few years back in the rollicking medieval comedy A Knight’s Tale – it would be hard to dislike this film.
Add to that some top-notch support from the likes of Ken Stott, Oliver Platt, Omid Djalili, Blackadder’s Tim McInnerny and even, quite surprisingly, Sienna Miller – better known for her relationship with Jude Law than any acting talent – and this fleshes out to be a great little romp. Nothing amazing, but good fun nonetheless – and ideal for a silly pick-me-up in this chilly dead time between Christmas and Easter.