Premier pants man of the Enlightenment
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
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.