Dangerous Beauty

on February 20, 1998 by Kim Williamson
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   Warner Bros. has never seemed what to make of--or call--this romantic period drama about a young woman ("Braveheart's" Catherine McCormack") of medieval Venice who, not born into a family rich enough to allow her to marry her beloved prince ("Cold Comfort Farm's" Rufus Sewell), is schooled by her mother (Jacqueline Bisset) to be a courtesan: A beauty who, made expert in the ways of bedroom sensuality, satisfies the needs of the men of the ruling class and thus becomes part of the aristocracy.
   As adapted by Jeanine Dominy (whose upcoming "Incognito" also has been sitting a while on Warner's shelves) from a Margaret Rosenthal novel, "Dangerous Beauty"--previously also known as "The Honest Courtesan," "Venice" and "Indiscretion," and screened at ShowEast as "Courtesan"--even if set five centuries ago in a foreign land never leaves behind a 20th-century sensibility about the unrighteous suppression of women. Because of that, the New Regency production should appeal mainly to the distaff demo, although (perhaps to the studio's surprise) the Warner screening at the Atlantic City show left exhibitors of both genders generally praising the film.
   In the clarion-call lead, McCormack is effectively sympathetic and strong, sometimes a none-too-easy task for a female protagonist. (Played too much one way, such a character can seem trifling; too much the other, and she's Barb Wire.) McCormack makes her courtesan intelligent, almost scholarly; emotional, yet dispassionate when demanded; and fervent in her beliefs, even when on trial by the Inquisition. Meanwhile, director Marshall Herskovitz does an admirable job with his other players and makes the period setting authentic without being offputting for contemporary moviegoers.    Starring Catherine McCormack, Jacqueline Bisset, Rufus Sewell and Moira Kelly. Directed by Marshall Herskovitz. Written by Jeanine Dominy. Produced by Ed Zwick, Marhsall Herskovitz, Sarah Caplan, Arnon Milchan and Michael Nathanson. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. Rated R for some scenes of strong sexuality, and for nudity and language. Running time: 112 min.
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