In The Name of Entertainment


Where do we get our mental image of Italy from? To many who have never travelled to the Bel Paese, the country is full of beautiful people, beautiful food and beautiful scenery. That the language spoken is such a romantic vernacular is just another reason that people fall in love with a country they have never experienced in person, all those factors combining to make it a popular destination in which to escape from normal life; both in the imagination and in person.

More recently, the advent of Netflix and other subscription-based channels have provided a distinct change of tack. In these modern binge-watches, the halcyon representation of the peninsula turned is on its head by an increasingly popular look at the dark mafia underworld that lies beneath the “pizza and gelato” stereotypes by creating a different, if not equally unrepresentative version of the country.


Film and television not only have a role, but also an apology to make in their representation of Italy. Not everything is – and this may come as a surprise – as they wish to make out.  Take Diane Lane’s “Under the Tuscan Sun” or “Tea with Mussolini” starring Maggie Smith. To the average Italian, what is portrayed here is simply nothing like the reality of living in the nation they call home, but for many, they represent a romantic notion that can somehow be clung onto.

While both of these films are stories loosely based on truth, the handsome, Marcello – who has an initial affair with Lane’s character – is another permutation of a myth that allows middle-aged women to dream of moving to Italy and hooking up with a young and attractive native.

In a way, the screenwriters aren’t to blame for such artistic liberty. Who wouldn’t want to be swept up by god-like Marcello, played by the handsome Raoul Bova? Who doesn’t want to be captured by the fantasy and narration, or overwhelmed by the scenery in both films? It is after all, entertainment, and Italy is a stunning blank canvas upon which to build a story.

A deep fascination with the Mafia gives rise to a series named “Gomorrah”, based on the books by Roberto Saviano. This is a gripping drama set in Naples and based around the Mafia syndicate “Camorra”, one which goes so close to the bone that the author is now in permanent hiding. La Dolce Vita this is most certainly not, as the three series released so far direct the viewer through the dangerous underworld full of backstabbing and infighting.

Family wars are also a theme in the Netflix original series “Suburra: Blood on Rome”, this time a move slightly north to the Capital. Political and religious corruption are dealt with here, along with affairs, a character determined to keep his homosexuality quiet from his mafioso family and violence related to organised crime.

So which is it to be? Is Italy as romantic or as dangerous as it might seem? The answer lies, like most things, somewhere in the middle. Italian TV’s own Inspector Montalbano perhaps comes closest to achieving a balance, the adaptation of the Andrea Camilleri novels perfectly depicting the undeniable beauty of the peninsula without shying away from problems faced by the police.

Perhaps all that the recent shift in TV representation serves to highlight is that viewers want to be left on the edge of their seats, however for those who still want to revel in its romanticism, there remains something for everyone in this wonderfully diverse country.