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A Destiny of Her Own movie review

Released elsewhere as Dangerous Beauty
A Destiny of Her Own

It is Venice during the days of the great city states, their courtesans are the most educated women in the world. Proper women in Venice were heavily draped in black and ignorance, after all, a woman whose job is reproduction does not need to be educated, but it makes her dull company indeed. So while the nice girls are locked out of libraries and away from maps and politics, the courtesans are groomed, informed and educated. They are the companions of men, and must be able to meet them as equals.

When Veronica (Catherine McCormack) discovers that her love (Rufus Sewell) cannot marry her because he is destined, like her friend, his sister, for a 'great' contractual marriage, her mother (Jacqueline Bisset) takes Veronica's real education in hand. "Marriage," mama says, "is a contract, Veronica, not a perpetual tryst.". On the other hand, in a society where marriage and love are so carefully and strenuously divided, you can have the man, without the marriage. As long as you are cautious.

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"Love love, but do not love the man, or you will be in his power"

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Her choices are made clear to her, an ignoble marriage (she has no dowry), a nunnery where conditions are harsh to say the least, or sexual merchantry. Under her mother Paola's tutelage, Veronica discovers that in a society where females live in "the state of perpetual inconsequence", the price of freedom is sex. However, this is not necessarily a bed of nails. It does offer her options hitherto kept from her. Says Marshall Herskovitz, "In the 1500s, ...(courtesans) were the only women who could become artists, the only women who could own property."

At first Veronica blossoms, publishing poetry, besting the poet Maffio (Oliver Platt) at both poetry and sword play, and negotiating an alliance to protect Venice. But life isn't all wine and roses -- enter the villain. In this case the Inquisitors. My, the Catholic church makes a convincing villain.

Based on the biography of Veronica Franco (The Honest Courtesan), A Destiny of Her Own uses the characters well to illustrate the different aspects of society. Veronica and her friend Beatrice (Moria Kelly) contrast the two roles of women in Venetian society -- both defined by sexual activity. A variety of male characters accept or are threatened by Veronica as a person of courage and intelligence, and Paola is the voice of reason, a woman who knows supports her daughter and orchestrates her success. She demonstrates that older women do not envy younger women -- they fear for them, knowing what rude awakenings and dangers lie ahead.

This Venice is not a historically accurate Venice, it is considerably cleaned-up, as is its populace. The characters are in period-like costumes, with naturalistic contemporary make up, the film makers believing this distract less from the story.

I saw Destiny with an audience, and they enjoyed the film immensely, especially the lessons of the estimable Paola. The Australian title, A Destiny of Her Own is much stronger. Dangerous Beauty, the title and the posters, suggests that female sexuality is by definition misused power, while A Destiny of Her Own is a reference to Virginia Woolf and the tradition of female artists and writers and thinkers. Not surprising, since despite the film's message that women are real people with minds and talents and appetites, the film markers themselves were not convinced that this is true. Says Herskovitz of Veronica, "She is funny, she is wise, she is sexual, she is poetic. To find this in one person is terribly difficult." He should get out more widely.

Ultimately, this is an enjoyable film, with a point, with a worthwhile heroine, and with a considerable attention to detail. Well worth the time.

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Due for Australian release, March 18, 1999

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Just the facts:

Title: A Destiny of Her Own (1998)
Written by: novel (The Honest Courtesan) by Margaret Rosenthal, screenplay by Jeannine Dominy  
Directed by: Marshall Herskovitz  
Produced by: Sarah Caplan, Marshall Herskovitz, Paolo Lucidi (co-producer), Arnon Milchan, Michael G. Nathanson (executive), Debra Petro (associate), Stephen Randall (executive), Edward Zwick
Edited by: Arthur Coburn, Steven Rosenblum  
Director of Photography: Bojan Bazelli  

The Players: Catherine McCormack .... Veronica Franco
Rufus Sewell .... Marco Venier
Jacqueline Bisset .... Paola Franco
Oliver Platt .... Maffio Venier
Official website: http://www.newregency.com/dangerous/
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