Sunday, 19 November 2006

Casanova - The BBC Mini-Series (2005)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 20th July 2006.

Casanova (BBC Mini-series)The BBC's mini-series on Casanova, comprising three 45-minute episodes, was released on DVD last year and sat on my 'to be watched when you have time' backlog pile that seems to be growing by the month. A fortuitous visit and recommendation from a friend meant that this moved to the top of the pile this week, and it's not hard to see why it was so critically acclaimed.

What's odd is that this features the same writer, the same lead (effectively playing exactly the same role), the same co-actors as the new Doctor Who, a series I regard as having completely lots its way? How can the same basic team produce something at polar ends of the "quality" scale?

Tennant's boyish charm, general gurning and knowing winks to the audience work well in Casanova, so they should work equally well for Who - why don't they? I think a large part of the problem has to be the writing. Where Who is infantile, inconsistent and poorly plotted , Casanova is witty, entertaining and sophisticated (when I say 'sophisticated' I should add that these things are of course all relative!) Some would argue that my comparison of the two series is unfair because Who is meant for children, but that's a poor excuse for woefully inadequate scripts - just because you're producing a show for children does NOT mean you can turn in a script that could be bettered by the average sixth former handing in a weekly assignment.

But I digress - we're supposed to be talking Casanova here, not Who. The script is witty, and modern, if very tongue in cheek, with our man Casanova not only bedding all the ladies, but inventing the lottery too and performing all manner of 'modern' mayhem along the way. Successfully switching between almost surreal self-reverential comedy one moment, and dramatic gravitas the next, the script hangs together really well. Of course it helps if you have an actor with the sheer acting chutzpah of Peter O'Toole, who after some recent disappointing work (maybe I shouldn't blame the actor for the mess that was Troy) is firing on all cylinders here. He's supported by an excellent cast, who for the most part have at least guested on that 'other programme' too. But why is it that here they are fine, but on that 'other programme' they come across as wooden and completely unbelievable. The music for Casanova works well too (unlike... oops! nearly slipped back into a Who rant mode again!) and the direction is genuinely innovative and imaginative. Something tells me this wasn't produced by BBC Wales! It's a really class production and a great two-three hours of entertainment.

That being said, there is one area where Doctor Who scores over Casanova, and that's on basic value-for-money of the DVD release. This is a vanilla release - not so much as sub-titles are provided. A 'vanilla' Who release of the same time and duration costs around £8.89 online. Casanova sells for £13.99 even with substantial discount. That's too much for something this bare. So, much though I loved the production, I'd have to say it's a rental, not a purchase!

Casanova (BBC Mini-series) screencap

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