TV - Casanova


As always happens on holiday, it rained. So Susan Omand found a box-set of an old favourite in a charity shop and settled down to re-watch Casanova...

Before he was Don Juan in Soho, before he was a Detective in Broadchurch, even before he was a Doctor in Time and Space, David Tennant was causing trouble as an 18th Century Venetian lothario. In 2005, he starred in a three episode star-studded mini-series on TV, written by Russell T Davies about the notorious lover of life and... well... love, Casanova.

This, rather than Doctor Who, was the series that I first remember seeing David Tennant in on TV and it starts at the end, with the aged castle librarian Casanova, played beautifully by Peter o'Toole, regaling a young servant girl with the stories from his life. These stories are played out in flashback, with Tennant as Casanova's younger self, as the rise and fall of his notoriety is chronicled, from his "initial firing," that brought out his talents in more ways than one, through various professions and pretences, fortunes and favours won and lost, imprisonment, escape and a journey across Europe with his friend Rocco. And, of course, a meeting of "minds" with lots and lots of women, each of whom claims his heart, his commitment and his love, for however short a time. The enduring thread though is his non-relationship with Henriette (Laura Fraser), fiancee/wife of the ever jealous Rupert Penry-Jones' Grimani, and all that it could have/would have/should have been. If only...

The settings are sumptuous, the costumes creative and the writing witty. The flashbacks are bright, brash and beautiful but, more than that, this mini-series showed a subtlety to Russell T Davies' writing that hasn't been seen much after that, evidenced here by the shift in tone from frivolous to sordid in the flashbacks being so cleverly handled that you don't notice it happening, you only know it's changed.

The characters too all have depth to them, especially Casanova himself as he looks back on his legacy, the opportunities missed and the monsters created. I said at the start that this was the first series I remember seeing Tennant in and he is very very good in this, you can see why Davies kept him in mind for the Tenth Doctor, but the performance of the series has to go to his older "self," Peter O'Toole. He truly was a master of his craft and deserves to be remembered for more than just his role in Lawrence of Arabia. The nuance that he adds to Casanova, to his dialogue with the servant girl, is a joy to watch as his character re-awakens from the cynical and world-worn looking back on a life lived to someone that still has a hope of something to live for in the future.

So this is a story of possibilities, taking chances, living life on the edge and always striving for something more, something better. But reality always has a habit of kicking in - everything, it seems even hope, has its consequences, life is all about perception and very few people, no matter how eventful the journey, get their happy ending.

Image - IMDb