Premier pants man of the En­light­en­ment

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

YOU have to hand it to the hu­mourists who pro­gram pay TV. On St Valen­tines Day, the oc­ca­sion for eter­nal op­ti­mists to bang on about eter­nal love, they sched­ule a show about one of his­tory’s great­est root rats. It’s not that Casanova was not keen on com­mit­ment, he just liked to keep his re­la­tion­ships short and sweet. He had to if he was go­ing to ac­com­mo­date ev­ery­body in­ter­ested.

‘‘ He se­duced count­less women: no­ble­women, nuns and har­lots all fell for his dev­as­tat­ing charm,’’ the nar­ra­tor an­nounces.

But rather than an emo­tional abuser, who used sex to com­pen­sate for his own in­ad­e­qua­cies, Casanova is pre­sented as a proto-fem­i­nist. He was suc­cess­ful in the sack be­cause he liked women a lot and wanted to give them what they wanted, as op­posed to the av­er­age 18th-cen­tury man who thought woman were en­tirely in­fe­rior. Fun­nily enough, women who got what they wanted in bed were in­clined to look kindly on Casanova.

The schol­arly sound­ing com­men­ta­tors who ap­pear ( in­ex­pli­ca­bly all un­named) make the point that not only was Casanova ahead of his time in lik­ing women, he was also at the fore­front of the En­light­en­ment in be­liev­ing hu­man plea­sure, rather than God’s will, was what mat­tered most.

Given that Casanova’s mem­oirs are the sole source for the show it is prob­a­bly not sur­pris­ing that he comes out of this looking more like a philoso­pher in the bed­room than a self-ob­sessed he­do­nist. But the show makes the point that sex­ual moral­ity is cycli­cal and that in 18th-cen­tury Europe, peo­ple with enough money to in­dulge in what­ever aroused them gen­er­ally did.

What it lacks

is

de­tail

about

Ahead of his time: Casanova felt plea­sure mat­tered more than God’s will Casanova’s life out of bed, which is a shame be­cause the way a Vene­tian born on the fringe of so­ci­ety man­aged to make him­self into a gen­tle­man who spent his life trav­el­ling Europe with no as­sets other than his wits is a fas­ci­nat­ing story in it­self.

Casanova was fa­mous in an age where only aris­to­crats were sup­posed to be celebri­ties.

This is stan­dard His­tory Chan­nel stuff, an acted doc­u­men­tary with lots of arty shots and a nar­ra­tive that en­sures peo­ple don’t for­get the im­por­tant themes, by re­peat­ing them ev­ery five min­utes. Like most shows of this sort, the script is ir­ri­tat­ing but it looks great.

But any­body whose in­ter­est is ex­cited by the prospect of all the drama­tised scenes should be aware that this is the His­tory Chan­nel and the bits in bed are en­tirely deco­rous.

This is not Valen­tine’s Day en­ter­tain­ment for cou­ples in the first em­brace of love’s young dream.

For ev­ery­body else it is an en­ter­tain­ing hour about a man who lived for giv­ing plea­sure and who got a great deal back.

Stephen Match­ett

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