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I haven't read Margaret Rosenthal's biography, The Honest Courtesan, which formed the basis of Jeannine Dominy's script, but I found this a much more enjoyable, enlightening, and intelligent treatment of Venice and sex than the specious movie version of Henry James's The Wings of the Dove. Set in the 16th century, it's about a beautiful and brilliant woman (Catherine McCormack) who's unable to marry the aristocrat she loves (Rufus Sewell) because of her family background. Trained as a courtesan by her mother (Jacqueline Bisset), she becomes a formidable political figure through her liaisons with the most powerful men in Venice as well as visiting royalty, until the Inquisition threatens to brand her as a witch. (The title's something of a misnomer, by the way, since she's much more a feminist heroine than a bitch goddess.) Though the dialogue is predictably anachronistic in flavor, producer-director Marshall Herskovitz, best known for his work on Thirtysomething, gives this a narrative sweep and polish that makes it consistently entertaining. The city is used beautifully, and so, for the most part, is the cast (though Fred Ward seems a bit uncomfortable with his part). With Oliver Platt and Moira Kelly. 112 min.

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