So when I first heard of David Tennant as Casanova I was already watching him as Doctor Who and hadn’t had a chance to see his previous collaboration with Russell T Davies. Now I finally have I must admit I was surprised by how much I liked it. As a notorious slash fan a show about a man seducing countless women and having a lot of strait sex doesn’t sound like my cup of tea. Also the fact that while I think David Tennant is a fantastic actor and he is attractive but more so because of that insane vibe you sometimes get form the Doctor I do find him a bit too skinny to really make me think of him as the ultimate sexual predator. But here is where this series of Casanova did grab me so well. While Casanova is a bit of a sex fiend sleeping with countless women he has a heart he isn’t some lothario that only uses women for sex, he does in his own way love each women he sleeps with, as he says himself, “they are not just notches on a bed post”. Giving real heart to the character makes this a far more emotional and beautiful drama to watch. Casanova learns very early on that you have to listen to the needs and views of women, respect them and they will open up to you in ways most men will never understand or have the pleasure of witnessing. Casanova listens to these women gives them what they want, it’s not just a series of meaningless encounters it’s a mutual thing for both parties involved in these escapades. The other beautiful aspect of the character is the way he also somehow retains his innocence. All through his adventures there is still a naïve quality, a child like wonder to the world and the people he encounters, he is a boy playing a very adult game and while he knows what he’s doing he still acts like a child on occasions. He is still able to see the world with that childlike innocence so many adults lose when they grow older, to be able to enjoy his life without the added pressures most succumb to in adult society. It’s this quality that makes him a likable rogue rather than just a pervert or womaniser he could have so easily been.
While Casanova goes through his life his brilliance and ingenuity getting him in and out of every situation there are some constants, his faithful companion Rocco, always by his side trying to be his conscious or the voice of reason at his wild schemes and his one true love Henrietta, the only women he can never have. From the moment we meet Henrietta she is already engaged to Grimani, who has a title and money. Casanova at every step of the way is denied her by these obstacles as well as Grimani himself, who is always there to seek his revenge on Casanova taking the heart of his love. The series itself weaves a few story lines together; there is Casanova and Henrietta’s doomed relationship, getting close to each other finding their happiness only to be torn apart. There is also Casanova’s own adventures through Europe trying to stay a step ahead of the law, the schemes he hatches, the situations he finds himself and the relationships he forms with other people along the way. Lastly there is also the story of what happens to people that lose their innocence, when society becomes ruled by the rich with more money than sense, when people are corrupted by their own passions and indulgencies, lastly what happens when you have gained everything you think you truly desire. This last plot is at the heart of Casanova and is seen in the various courts he visits and the transformation of his son who he is united with after he escapes jail for fraud in Vienna.
We know that Casanova has great capacity for love and is not just a womaniser because of his relationship with one Bellino, a talented singer who is also a male castrato. Casanova is beginning to have feelings for Bellino but is so torn by the fact that he is a boy. This relationship is what makes us endeared to Casanova, he is capable of true feeling, he is not just using women and he does understand love. We know this because he finally goes to Bellino, say he loves him and is willing to break the law (homosexuality was illegal in this time) and be with him. Bellino so touched and happy about this finally reveals that he is in fact a women in disguise ( I wont spoil the ingenious little way he reveals himself its too funny a scene to spoil) and the two of them finally form a relationship with Casanova proposing. Next for them is to reveal Bellino the female singer to the world and announce their engagement and it is at the party that Bellino notices the friendship between her future husband and the engaged Henrietta. Bellino is a smart and capable woman she knows that with her career now taking full shape that her and Casanova’s life will be full of concerts and travels, Casanova will be a kept man living in her shadow and not the brilliant free spirit he is now. She recognises the love and friendship between the two denied lovers and decides that Casanova would be better of in Vienna with Henrietta so points them in the right direction. All seems good Bellino goes off to her fame, Casanova and Henrietta admit their feelings and by a twist of luck Casanova saves a priest and becomes his adopted son gaining a title and money enough to propose to Henrietta. It could have been happy endings if not for Grimani and his accusations of fraud that land Casanova in jail and by escaping making him a wanted man and forever separated from Henrietta. This is where our next journey begins.
We are introduced to Jack, Casanova’s illegitimate son who will not utter a word and we take a tour of Europe in a search for a pardon so Casanova can return to Vienna. This journey is truly beautiful and fantastic because it explores each country though its Courts, the French court so decadent and risqué. This is right before the French Revolution and you can see why the poorer classes revolute against the aristocrats. These aristocrats are so indulgent with their lives, on the surface it looks like fun and games, beautiful clothes, parties and luxuries a plenty but we also see the dark seed in the joy that comes from the Parisian’s enjoyment of watching a man being tortured and killed in front of them as if it was a sport. It is also hear the seed of darkness is placed in Casanova’s son as he smiles as he watches the execution. We start to see that he may not have inherited his father’s innocence and good heart. The striking contrast between the French Court and the English Court is brilliant. In true British fashion and a small bit of stereotyping the English court is a far more sober affair, its tea and crumpets, there isn’t dancing and exuberant costumes, its proper and well mannered the most risqué someone is being is having lemon in their tea!! It’s all very British as you would expect at the time and it’s Casanova that brings his own bit of scandal to rock the boat. But Alas things don’t go as well and our travellers have to move on once more. We go through illness and death until we end up in Naples the city below a volcano and the shocking conclusion to where a life of sin without innocence, indulgence without consciousness, risk without consequence, sex without love and what happens when you have everything you want. By this time Jack is 20 and has apparently learnt much from his father about the seduction of women, but he has taken his fathers teaching but none of the heart, none of the gentle playfulness and childlike wonder. He knows how to get what he wants, how to indulge and seduce but not to respect and love, no Casanova has lost the fight to turn his son into a good man. Naples is a bed of sin, we learn that Bellino has settled here having attained everything she has every wanted as well as raising Casanova’s daughter. Casanova is not only shocked that she never spoke of their child but at the turn her life has taken, so happy to indulge in pure sin even at the risk of her own life (after all they are living at the foot of Pompeii. But worst of all Jack has taken a liking to his sister and when Casanova tries to stop this interlude Jack reveals he doesn’t care, after all this is what his father has taught him, to take what he wants. Finally Casanova is disgusted he sees what his life has done to his son, the man he has raised, all the things he never accomplished and the friends he has lost along the way. He finally decided to hide himself stop the running, stop the lifestyle and settle believing he has lost everything in his life.
Casanova’s story is wonderful told by Peter O’Toole as and aging Casanova reliving the events through his stories being told to a young servant girl. She is us we love, we hate, we laugh and we cry just as she does. We wish for a happy ending even though we know there cannot be one but we want to go on the journey regardless. Apart from great acting and great story telling the thing that makes this production truly brilliant is the costumes. I have never seen such luxury and diversity in costumes. The colours are amazing, the designs unique and fantastical. Each court has a different look, rooms of twirling, colourful and ingenious costumes that are a true feast for the eyes. The production is pure magic, truly original and magnificent to behold that it really took my breath away each time we were introduced to a new setting. The costumes really brought out all the hidden depths and themes of each new place. Without words but with visuals alone you are able to see the truth behind each society and how it conducts itself. I truly recommend this wonderful drama for it really brings magic and heart, yet the nature of human want and need to us.