Amazon has released two new pilots under its Amazon Original Series banner, one of which is for its lush period drama Casanova.
Venice, spring of 1757. On the top floor of the Doge’s palace, in a cell of the Leads Prison, Giacomo Casanova is languishing, chiding himself and screaming for his Genoan friend Balbi while reminiscing about past liaisons. As luck or fate would have it, Casanova escapes.
Intent on putting his randy reputation and “exhaustive list of bad habits” behind him to start his life anew, the Venetian Casanova flees his homeland with nothing but the clothes on his body and makes his way to Paris, where the Age of Enlightenment is in full swing.
It is in Paris that he meets up again with old friends Silvia Balletti, an Italian actress in the Comédie Italienne, and Francois-Joachim de Pierre de Bernis, the scheming, power-hungry French foreign minister in King Louis XV’s court who wants nothing more than to get Madame de Pompadour, the King’s mistress, out of his way.
As de Bernis and Casanova plot their respective plans for upward mobility amongst the nobility, the latter finds temptation all around him, including Silvia’s now-grown daughter Manon Balletti. He also meets and befriends the eccentric aristocrat Marquise d’Urfé, who is intent on discovering the alchemical philosopher’s stone.
Written by Stuart Zicherman (The Americans, Six Degrees), and executive produced by Zicherman and Ben Silverman (The Tudors, Marco Polo), Casanova marks the television debut of Oscar®-nominated director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie, A Very Long Engagement, Alien: Resurrection).
Visually, the pilot is striking. The period costumes and sets are sumptuous, and the scenes of Venice, Paris, and l’Orangerie at Versailles are, as one might expect, stunning. The sex scenes tend toward the explicit while the public execution scene is very much so, and the dialogue, which sounds contrived at times, can get bawdy — ergo the TV-MA rating.
Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Stars Wars Anthology: Rogue One) is simply delicious as the rogue-with-a-conscience Casanova, with his penetrating gaze, seductive accent, and just the right amount of cheekiness. As Madame de Pompadour, Bojana Novakovic (Shameless) imbues the character with a haughtiness worthy of the King’s favorite mistress and an iciness toward Casanova that looks like it might thaw in short order. Ben Daniels (House of Cards) plays de Bernis as smoothly calculating and a bit too distant to get excited about right now, whereas one is left curious about what will happen with Miranda Richardson’s (And Then There Were None) wealthy, odd, and seemingly gullible Marquise d’Urfé.
This period in Casanova’s life is intriguing, and the pilot episode offers several strands that leave viewers dangling at its conclusion, including the power plays and revenge plots in the triangle of Casanova, Madame de Pompadour, and de Bernis, what looks to be a budding romance between the notorious lover boy and the young Manon Balletti (Amelia Clarkson, Our Zoo), and the not-so-veiled threat made to Casanova by the courtier and d’Urfé’s friend for amusement’s sake, the Comte de St Germain (Paul Rhys, Borgia).
I give the Casanova pilot ★★★★ out of 5, and would like to see how the main storyline and sub-plots play out in the rest of the series, which focuses on Casanova’s work as a spy for the Parisian government.
If you haven’t seen it yet, head to Amazon Instant Video (US, UK, and Germany) and watch it for free. Viewer ratings and comments will determine whether the pilot gets a full series order, which, if it does, will be available exclusively to Prime Members in the upcoming Amazon Original Series new season.