“Venice draws you in like a vintage spy movie from the 1940s. It is shrouded in a mist that is neither heavy nor oppressive but envelops the city so that it does not give up its secrets too easily. In that respect, Venice is like a beautiful, confident woman. It is at once mysterious and exposed.”
We will travel again, after this global health crisis, but until we do, sit back and enjoy a virtual visit of Venice in these films and TV shows we’ve found along our journey, all chosen for their spotlight on the floating city and no other reason.
The Tourist (2010) – This is perhaps one of the best films to highlight Venice in the past 20 years. Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp star as a mismatched coupled in a film that’s not quite sure if it’s a mystery or a comedy and clearly falls short of both. It’s hard to believe that the master writer behind Downtown Abbey and Gosford Park, Julian Fellowes, shared screenwriting credit here. Yet, don’t allow the poor screenplay to deter you from watching. The beautiful cinematography soars over Piazza San Marco, lounges at the lux Hotel Danieli, and floats through the back canals and calles of Venice with their mysterious and alluring light.
Casino Royale (2006) – How can you not enjoy Daniel Craig as Bond, James Bond, in this film of version of Ian Fleming’s first novel, the classic spy thriller of the same name? While Bond gets his license to kill and travels the world, our favorite scene is the climactic closer along the Grand Canal in Venice. It’s no surprise that things go boom in a Bond film but to do it in such grand style along the Grand Canal took skill. The location was the Lion Morosini Palace Hotel in the Cannaregio section of Venice. The plotting, the choreography, the underwater acrobatics were almost a movie within the movie, so much so that the studio released a separate documentary on the shooting of this scene, “Casino Royale: Death in Venice – the Sinking Palazzo” (2008).
The Aspern Papers (2019) – This film is based on the Henry James novella of 1888 and set during that period. It tells the story of an ambitious American editor obsessed with the love letters presumably left behind by the late romantic poet Jeffrey Aspern. Performances by Jonathan Rhys Meyers and mother-daughter duo Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave kept us watching but Venice is not a main character when it should have been a star. So much of the boring, pointless plot takes place inside the dark walls of a 19th Century villa, with few scenes along the canals and calles of the floating city.
Inferno (2016) – When symbologist Robert Langdon wakes up with amnesia in an Italian hospital with a serial killer on his tail, the clock starts ticking for him to travel to exotic locations to save the world from a doomsday plot. Tom Hanks again stars as Professor Langdon in the film directed by Ron Howard, which means you’re in for a fast-paced chase or two, beautiful cinematography and Hanks’ on-screen magic. The plot centers around stopping a rich madman from releasing a plague-like virus to stop global overpopulation. It may hit too close to home for some during the current pandemic, but know that it comes to a good end as will the current global crisis. There are stops in Florence and Istanbul but the stop in Venice’s Piazza San Marco is worth a virtual visit.
The Comfort of Strangers (1990) – It takes mystery, lust and the crazy Christopher Walken to stir up trouble in moody Venice. Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson star as a British couple on holiday in Venice, until Walken’s character introduces them to more than they bargained for or ever imagined. The film is full of scenes in and around Venetian canals and the city’s lovely piazzas.
HONORARY MENTION: You can’t list film or TV scenes of Venice without a mention of The “Donna Leon Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries (2000-2012) based on the author’s successful series of novels. However, the actors are German and there are English subtitles and despite the wonderful calle and canal scenes, the accent takes away something of the Venetian allure and mystery.