This film claims it is a true story at the start, but it's a very dubious version of the real Veronica Franco's story. Despite that, however, it is a glorious romp of a movie, at least for the first two thirds. Filmed in a sort of golden 'Renaissance' light like Italian paintings come to life, it wallows in its own glorious decadence. The beautiful Veronica, unable to marry her love since her family can't afford a dowry, instead becomes a courtesan, trained by her mother, and rises in Venetian society. Full of seductive garden parties, Venetian salons, poetry competitions and the allure of sex, this part of the film works wonderfully.
The problem comes when the film attempts to deconstruct the glamorous side of being a courtesan, which is, after all, just a prostitute dressed up in beautiful clothes and accomplishments. Veronica's struggle, and her trial under the Venetian inquisition, takes the film into a darker arena that sits very uncomfortably with the first half. It's not well-written enough to really engage with this, and the Hollywood treatement of her release spoiled everything that had gone earlier.
The real Veronica Franco was far, far more fascinating than this film makes out, and didn't, of course, have the same kind of Hollywoood romantic gloss to her life. Rosenthal's The Honest Courtesan: Veronica Franco, Citizen and Writer in Sixteenth-century Venice (Women in Culture & Society)
, the first full-length study of Franco in English, was cited as the base of this film. It's a proper academic study of her life and writings in their social, economic and historical context, and while it may be hard going for a non-academic reader, it still reveals a more complex mind and society than this film even tries to.
So overall I loved this film for its pure indulgence and beauty but felt uncomfortable when it tried to deal with anything darker or more realistic. Sadly there's a really good reason why this failed at the box-office despite the always-wonderful Rufus Sewell.
ps. Veronica Franco's poems and letters are available at a reasonable price on Amazon Poems and Selected Letters (Other Voice in Early Modern Europe)
if you're interested in exploring the reality behind the fiction.