Top 5 Frock Flicks Set in Venice


Two of your Frock Flickers just went to carnival in Venice — Trystan and I had a blast! So I’ve got Venice on the brain. I thought it would nice to take a look at some of the top frock flicks set in the Serenissima, particularly those that evoke a sense of the city. Of course, a number of costume films have been set there, including the various versions of Othello, Brideshead Revisited (1981 and 2008), and Effie Gray. But these five films rise to the top!

Frock Flicks at Venice carnival

Kendra (magenta wig and feathers in back) and Trystan (black with pink/purple diamonds) about to attend the opera in Venice with friends Leia and Lisa.

Frock Flicks at Venice carnival

Trystan (left) and Kendra (right) taking a gondola ride in 16th-century costume.


Casanova (2005)

There have been multiple films about Casanova, and probably most of them are “set” in Venice. My favorite is probably the David Tennant version, but none of it was filmed in the city. For a better flavor of Venice, watch this Heath Ledger film, which WAS actually filmed on location in Venice.

2005 Casanova

There’s canal shenanigans.

2005 Casanova

Beautiful shots of the city.

2005 Casanova

Hot gondola action!

2005 Casanova

Even more hot gondola action!

2005 Casanova

And swagger!


Death in Venice (1971)

Everyone raves about Piero Tosi’s costume designs in this Edwardian-set film that was indeed filmed in Venice. I’ve heard so many good things that I was even fired up to watch this, until I read that it’s basically about a pedophile having the hots for a younger man (okay, and seeing reviews that constantly mention the word “slow” — if it was a fast-paced, action-packed movie, MAYBE?). Feel free to stone me!

1971 Death in Venice

We arrived on a water taxi, and it was totally The Way to Arrive in Venice!

1971 Death in Venice

Much of the film takes place at a grand hotel on the Lido beach, a narrow barrier island.

Death in Venice (1971)

And yeah, the costumes look amaze-balls.

1971 Death in Venice

I can admire that that’s one of the wells that are at the center of Venice’s many campos, while I roll my eyes at the pedophile having a sad.

1971 Death in Venice

Definitely looks like you get a look at the city, tho!


The Merchant of Venice (2004)

Here’s another one I haven’t seen, and you may stone me when I tell you that I don’t get terribly excited about Shakespeare (I had a great high school English teacher who made King Lear come alive, and sure Much Ado About Nothing is great, but otherwise I generally feel like I have to work too hard to appreciate any nuances; I KNOW, I’M A HEATHEN! I do nerd out about many other historical writings/theater!). That being said, this version of The Merchant of Venice was indeed filmed in Venice, and critics love to wet themselves about how good it is, so I feel morally obliged to include it!

2004 The Merchant of Venice

Looks like we’ve got some hot palazzo action.

2004 The Merchant of Venice


2004 The Merchant of Venice

The costumes look pretty, if stripped down.

2004 The Merchant of Venice

This had better be a brothel!

2004 The Merchant of Venice

#titsout is a thing, apparently, but I like seeing the ancient city.


Dangerous Beauty (1998)

Okay, so the movie is cheesy AF while also being a total guilty pleasure, and the costumes are crazytown but also based in actual history. When I watch the film, I always feel like they’re on a set, not the real deal, but this was actually filmed in Venice … and despite the staginess of the sets, I DO feel like I get a sense of Venice as a Renaissance city and the centrality of courtesans to that era. So, it’s a good one for enjoying Venice’s golden age!

1998 Dangerous Beauty

There’s TONS of courtesans-in-a-gondola action.

Dangerous Beauty


1998 Dangerous Beauty


1998 Dangerous Beauty

The interiors are evocative.

1998 Dangerous Beauty

I do love the whole “public festival” feel of these scenes.

1998 Dangerous Beauty

And there are literal gondolas and bridges and canals!


The Wings of the Dove (1997)

This 1910s-set, Henry James adaptation is absolutely my top choice. Yes, the first half of the movie is set in England, but when the main characters go to Venice, there is ALL THE VENICE PORN. Multiple shots of key locations, like the Palazzo San Marco! Historical churches! Picnics by the canal! Wandering the tiny streets! And best of all, they’re there for carnival, so there’s historical fancy dress PLUS hot costumed dark-street shagging.


The Wings of the Dove (1997)

© Miramax

1997 The Wings of the Dove

Gondola rides are taken.

1997 The Wings of the Dove

I love all the street wandering they do, at night…

1997 The Wings of the Dove

…and during the day!

The carnival scene is beautiful — Helena Bonham Carter wear’s a Spanish-style man’s outfit, and Alison Elliott’s veil and comb seem either Italian or Spanish.

Elizabeth McGovern, The Wings of the Dove (1997)

Masks are rocked!

1997 The Wings of the Dove

And you can’t go wrong with a costumed shag.

1997 The Wings of the Dove

I LOVE the scenes set in the faded palazzo.

1997 The Wings of the Dove

And the picnic on the steps of the Santa Maria delle Salute church is just stunning!

1997 The Wings of the Dove

Wearing Fortuny-esque gowns for that picnic.



What’s your favorite historical costume film set in Venice?

22 Responses

  1. Shashwat

    Today I just read about the heavy blow to tourism in Venice because of the coronavirus,and now read this.Somebody should ask nature to just…chill?Anyways it’s a great thing you wrapped up with your Venice Carnival in time before corona struck Italy.
    My favourite of these is The Merchant of Venice.We had that play in high school(two years ago)and I was shocked that I really came to sympathise with Jermy Irons’ Antonio,a charater that made me wish to slap him left and right and stab in the gut!I never understood his obsessive dedication to Bassanio.Heck,if there was really some same sex love between them,Antonio still did not have to indulge in toxic one sided love for that spendthrift manipulative Bassanio.But Irons is a powerhouse of histrionics.Shylock,no words for him in MOV.Perhaps Shakespeare’s best villain.

  2. Jillian

    That photo of the couple walking at night, is that an actual Fortuny dress or a replica?

  3. Susan Pola Staples

    Wings of the Dove followed by Merchant and Dangerous Beauty. Rufus Sewel is gorgeous and there’s all that Venice
    And you know how I adore him. Sigh. Swoon. Yum.

    Wings of the Dove is one of my all time favourite movies.

      • Susan Pola Staples

        He has only gotten better with age. And he is extremely talented. He is equally at home in period films, etc as modern.

  4. Donnalee of Kingston NY

    Lovely photos, including those of you all at the top. They all look worth me revisiting–and thanks for the swagger photo of Heath, which doesn’t look dated at all.

  5. Frannie Germeshausen

    I’m glad I went to Venice when I did. It was so dreamlike and gorgeous. I love every picture of the two of you there.

  6. Roxana

    That yellow Fortuny knock off is beautiful. It’s also totally transparent with the sun behind her.

  7. Susan Pola Staples

    Kendra anymore pics of the 16th century costumes in La Serenissima? They’re gorgeous

  8. Tamara

    I adore Shakespeare, but The Merchant of Venice is his worst play in my opinion, together with The Taming of the Shrew, since both are full of hate toward Jews or women (and as I happen to be both). This play is so full of anti-Semitism that no beautiful portrayal of Venice can hide it’s ugliness.

  9. Constance

    I love Wings of the Dove and also the dresses…though I think she would have worn something under that yellow one, in real life…

  10. Kelly

    Wings of the Dove, definitely! I craved every single frock those women wore–can I please have just one of them? I don’t even care which one!
    That MOV film had so much wrong with it–and Lynn Collins, get your hair off your face!
    Haven’t seen Dangerous Beauty in ages, but remember enjoying it despite all of the soapiness.
    What about Senso, a Visconti film from the 1950s, with Alida Valli as a seriously obsessive countess who falls for the utterly worthless Farley Granger (dubbed into Italian)? Lots of recognizable locations in Venice and Rome, and wow 1950s-does-Risorgimento-Italy costumes.
    Other than Don’t Look Now (definitely not a frock flick), Death in Venice must be the only film that makes Venice look sickly and sketchy. Dirk Bogarde deserves a Man Candy Monday (if you haven’t already done on for him–not only a fabulous actor, but also an excellent writer!), but even the gorgeous Tosi costumes can’t redeem the utter gloom of this film. My husband and I went the Lido in Venice a few years ago to visit the hotel where much of the action is set; it was surrounded by chain-link fence and slated for demolition!! It would probably have survived if it had been facing Venice, but as it is, the best rooms faced out into the Adriatic. While a lovely view, people don’t want to feel that removed from Venice if they’ve spent all that money to get there.
    We’re all living vicariously through you all belle signorine, by the way–hope you had a rockin’ time at Carneval, and thanks for the photos!

  11. Karen K.

    Wings of the Dove, definitely! And I remember seeing Dangerous Beauty in theaters, just to see Rufus Sewell and Venice! I’ve since visited Venice and now I’ll have to go back and watch these films just so I can see it again, at least vicariously.

    And though not a period film, Don’t Look Now with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland has great shots of Venice.

  12. Saraquill

    Merchant of Venice and Dangerous Beauty has me scandalized with the lack of camicas. Those gowns must have gotten grotty.

  13. Roxana

    Is Venice the kind of city you can roam around in 16th century dress without attracting undue notice? You’d certainly blend in well with the architecture!

  14. Heather Christine Ripley

    Thank you for the photos of your recent trip, I’ve been enjoying them on FB too Kendra. Thank you for the recap of your top five – delicious!

    I see a mini-Venice film festival in my future…..I adored visiting there in 2018, but alas I was alone and a very short trip so I really missed out. I’m looking forward to viewing some of these; most especially Wings of a Dove and Dangerous Beauty, the frocks look amazing.

    And one of these days I WILL go back!

  15. Gill

    You ladies are so beautiful – and it’s not just your outfits, which you totally rocked!