Saturday, August 14, 2010

A case study in storytelling

Last night, I finished watching the BBC miniseries "Casanova," which was also broadcast by Masterpiece Theatre four years ago and is handily available on DVD at my local library. I'll be honest: I picked it up because I've run through every David Tennant episode of "Doctor Who" and was interested in hunting down some of his other work. But my sudden fondness for British television is not what this post is about. It's about themes in storytelling.

At first glance, the storytelling in "Casanova" struck me as somewhat uneven. First off, there are two stories going on at once: the exploits of young Casanova, and the shame and regret of old Casanova. The tones of the two stories are quite different, as are the performances of Tennant and Peter O'Toole.

With a deeper look, though, the story comes together into a beautiful whole. And it's because, at its heart, this "Casanova" is not about bawdy, raunchy fun. (Although it certainly has its share of that.)

This is a story about a man who runs from the consequences of his actions for years and years -- be it an angry husband or a jail break or fleeing France before the revolution that Casanova is sure he had a hand in causing. But no one can run forever, and when Casanova finally comes face to face with his legacy and with himself, he cannot handle it and becomes a broken man. Tennant and O'Toole are, in effect, playing different characters, divided by that moment of revelation. But O'Toole's Casanova, in the end, rediscovers what made him great in the first place - his amazing capacity for love - and it heals him.

Despite, the wildly divergent tones and performances, the themes of love vs. sex and of facing consequences are consistent throughout. For me, watching the miniseries was an interesting study of the glue that holds a story together. Of course, the bawdy, raunchy stuff was fun, too.

No comments: