Amazon pilot 'Casanova' wants you to show a little love for history's greatest lover

If you like this pilot episode from the director of "Amelie", it could be made into a series. Here's our review.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
3 min read

Diego Luna plays Giacomo Casanova with more than romance on his mind. Bruno Calvo/Amazon

When you think of Casanova, what do you think of? Probably Venezia's greatest love machine romping his way from tryst to colourful tryst, puffy shirt billowing, leaving a string of satiated commoners, courtesans and countesses in his wake. But a proposed new series from Amazon and the director of the popular 2001 movie "Amelie" shows you a different side of the legendary libertine in the hope you'll vote to see more.

"Casanova" is one of two new dramas being tested in Amazon's latest Pilot Season, in which pilot episodes for proposed new shows are made available online so you can let Amazon know if you want to see more episodes. The first episode of "Casanova" is available to watch on Amazon now, along with another pilot called " Sneaky Pete".

In this debut episode we meet Giacomo Casanova, played by Diego Luna (familiar from movies including "Y Tu Mamá También"), at his lowest ebb. He's rotting in a Venetian jail, plagued with self-doubt, looking back on his debauched past with regret. Those romantic exploits play out in a quickfire series of raunchy flashbacks, our hero cavorting with scantily clad ladies, romping in haylofts and seducing nuns. It's all very NSFW, by the way.

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But once he escapes to Paris, there's precious little slap to be tickled. Instead, Casanova is drawn into courtly intrigue involving French king Louis XV and the king's mistress Madame de Pompadour, using his seductive talents for political ends rather than getting his end away.

The pilot episode is written by Stu Zicherman, a producer and writer on "The Americans". Like that show, "Casanova" involves power plays entwined with personal feeling, characters confronting situations in which their goals don't always line up with their own morals.

It's a different take than previous versions of Casanova's story, like 2005's BBC serial with David Tennant and the Hollywood movie with Heath Ledger, both of whom played the role in a much lighter fashion. And it's a bold and perhaps disappointing approach to portray history's greatest lover as having given up on love. While it's intriguing to see what happens when a man who cares only about his own desires gets involved in politics, the story tips into the sordid as Casanova's approach to spying veers uncomfortably close to pimping. The whole thing wraps up on a rather grim note as powdered Parisian aristocrats jostle for a view of a bloody execution.

There are a few ridiculous wigs and hilarious fake European accents, obviously. And there are certainly some sumptuous locations on show, particularly the sun-dappled palace of Versailles. But overall, the distinctive visual flair of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the French director behind super-stylish movies "Amelie" and "Alien: Resurrection", is sadly muted to just the occasional flash of lurid colour.

Still, the show perks up a bit when Miranda Richardson shows up as a bonkers aristo alchemist, and Bojana Novakovic's steely Madame du Pompadour looks like she could be an interesting character if the show continues.

Which will depend on whether you show history's greatest lover some love.

Pilot episodes of "Casanova" and "Sneaky Pete" are available on Amazon for anyone to watch and give feedback. To watch other movies and TV shows on Amazon Instant Video, you need an Amazon Prime subscription. That includes access to music, e-books and faster delivery on products bought from Amazon, and costs £79 in the UK or $99 in the US.