Dir: Lasse Hallstrom. US.2005. 112mins.

There's somethingold-fashioned about Lasse Hallstrom's take on the 18-century Venetian rake andwomaniser Giacomo Casanova; but also something disarmingly likeable.It's as if the spirit of Richard Lester, circa The Three Musketeers, had takenpossession of the Swedish director.

Hallstrom is helped by ascript fizzing with brio and by the persuasive comic performance of HeathLedger, who offers us Casanova the overgrown kid rather than the smoothseducer; more Gerard Depardieu than Errol Flynn.

Casanova will play a lot more family-oriented than its titlemight suggest, and Buena Vista will need to make an effort to stress this intheir marketing campaign: this is more a farce-tinged rom-com than a risque sexromp.

Shakespeare In Love is probably its nearest recent cousin, especially inthe way that the script plays fast and loose with the biographical record -though Tom Stoppard's Shakespeare script was good on the often surprising detailsof life in Elizabethan London.

Here Hatcher and Simi arecontent to peddle the cliches of lewd nuns, golden-hearted courtesans andVenetian life being one long Carnevale in the twilight years of the SereneRepublic.

It all makes for anunchallenging but neatly-wrapped package that should play equally well inprovincial multiplexes and urban one-screeners, and is likely to enjoy ahealthy auxiliary life. Casanova opens in the US on Dec 25 after playingout of competition at Venice.

Fault-finding pedants aredismissed in an opening voice-over that flash-forwards to the end of Casanova'slife. Here, the elderly rake warns us not to bother looking in his memoirs forthe story we're about to see, as this is one love affair that he didn't setdown. Then we slam into the action as Casanova is caught entertaining thesisters in a nunnery and forced to flee across the rooftops.

His flight ends in captureand his first glimpse of Francesca Bruni (Siena Miller), a feisty, feministbrunette who captures the serial womaniser's heart by being indifferent to his charms.By the third minute, therefore, the chips are down: will Casanova be able toescape from the grip of the Inquisition and win Francesca's heart' Um, yes. Andthat's not a spoiler.

Though Ledger and Miller(holding her own in her first headline role) are the main focus of attention,much of the enjoyment derives from supporting characters like Paprizzio (OliverPlatt), a blustering, rotund lard merchant from Genoa, or Lupo (Omid Djalili),Casanova's long-suffering servant, who has a habit of speaking in the firstperson plural.

As Casanova's chiefpersecutor, Bishop Pucci, Jeremy Irons proves that he can do comedy - andself-parody. There's a Carry On feel about some of the one-liners (wehalf expect the actors to deliver them straight to camera) and about some ofthe visual gags - like the gondola that rises out of the water like aspeedboat, displaced by Paprizzio's huge bulk.

The carefree tone makes itsomehow less of a problem that everyone in Venice is speaking English - thoughItalians may find a subtitled Casanova a bit difficult to swallow.

Comic anachronisms providepart of the fun, though they are sprinkled a little more lightly than in ShakespeareIn Love or A Knight's Tale: huge advertising hoardings coverbuildings, and a bookseller's comes on like an 18-century version of Borders,with display tables dedicated to single authors.

Cinematographer OliverStapleton makes the most of the Venetian locations in his sumptuous widescreenphotography, and Alexandre Desplat's vivacious score integrates Venetiancomposers like Albinoni and Corelli.

Production companies
Mark Gordon Company
Touchstone Pictures

US distribution
Buena Vista

International distribution
Buena Vista International

Executive producers
Su Armstrong
Adam Merims
Gary Levinsohn

Mark Gordon
Betsy Beers
Leslie Holleran

Jeffrey Hatcher
Kimberly Simi
from a story by
Kimberly Simi
Michael Christofer

Oliver Stapleton

Production design
Matteo Bertelli

Andrew Mondshein

Alexandre Desplat

Main cast
Heath Ledger
Sienna Miller
Jeremy Irons
Oliver Platt
Lena Olin
Natalie Dormer