Back in 1997 I had two holidays in Miami Beach, staying on Ocean Drive. The first holiday felt magical. The place was bustling, yet felt very safe, there was a relaxed atmosphere and I remember seeing Tom Jones sat at a streetside bar with no-one taking much notice. It seemed a place where celebrities could just blend in, there was a real live and let live atmosphere which welcomed all. Halfway along Ocean Drive there was the house of world famous fashion designer Gianni Versace, an impressive palace of a building which amazingly opened up onto the street and where he could be spotted coming out to enjoy the atmosphere on Ocean Drive, being a regular at the shops and cafes. I loved the place so much another holiday was booked for later on that summer.
In the meantime, on July 15th to be exact, Gianni Versace was gunned down as he was entering his property from Ocean Drive after having been to the News Café (which did great breakfasts) to buy magazines. When we went back to Miami just a few weeks after this terrible event it felt different. It was if some of the sparkle had gone from Ocean Drive. It was no longer the safe, accepting place it was just a few months earlier. BBC2 this week began showing a nine part series which examines exactly what happened a little over twenty years ago.
I would be watching this even if I had not had this connection with Ocean Drive and the reason for this is director and executive producer Ryan Murphy. I watched every episode of his “Glee” and his recent adaptation of the feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was quality television and brought back to mind one of my all-time favourite books – “Bette And Joan: The Divine Feud” by Shaun Considine. I am also a big fan of “American Horror Story” (although I did give up on “My Roanoke Nightmare“the series I chose to review a while back, however I did stick with the follow-up season “Cult”). “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” is the second instalment of Murphy’s “American Crime Story” thread. I didn’t watch the first series on the trial of O J Simpson as it didn’t really appeal. When it started to pick up awards I did think that perhaps I had made a mistake in rejecting it.
Inside The Versace mansion
The first episode was lusciously filmed with the bright vibrant colours I remember so well from Miami Beach and glimpses inside the recreation of the glamorous Versace mansion. Where this is obviously going to be different from the trial-based O J Simpson story is that here there would be no trial as the perpetrator ends his killing spree by suicide so, with nine episodes to fill, what we are going to have here is going to be mainly back story.
Edgar Ramirez and as Versace
Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez as Versace is the only one of the main performers that I was not familiar with. I could see from his pictures that excellent work has been done to make him look so much like Versace. Darren Criss was probably the main reason I stuck with “Glee” for his effervescent portrayal of Blaine Anderson, an exceptionally positive gay character. Criss at the time said “As an actor you play different parts and this one happens to be a gay character- and a strong one, so really I lucked out.” Once again Criss is playing a gay character but there is little positive to say about killer Andrew Cunanan – a fantasist and compulsive liar who had wormed his way to a night at the opera with Versace seven years earlier. Criss’ portrayal is already quite chilling, the pretty boy and nerd who appeared on the Most Wanted List due to a number of slayings before he met up again with Versace at the steps of the fashion designer’s mansion.
Darren Criss – From Blaine to Cunanan
The scale of this production can be seen by the use of two household names in supporting roles. Ricky Martin plays Versace’s boyfriend Antonio D’Amico and chosen to play the difficult to cast Donatella Versace is Penelope Cruz. Appearance wise Cruz offers a softer Hollywood edge to Donatella but there is no doubt that she means business. Maintaining the reputation of her brother and his brand is shown right from her first entry into the mansion after her Gianni’s death when she castigates D’Amico for speaking to the police. I suppose that the business had to go on and what initially seems as her being heartless is perhaps put into context as she describes how the empire had developed from a small stall in Milan with one rack of clothes to the global multi-million dollar brand . One of the surprising elements, however, and, surely this must have been in the dramatization of the piece were the number of police who did not seem to know who Versace was.
Ricky Martin and Penelope Cruz
I’m very interested to see how this series develops over nine episodes. There is a temptation for the whole thing to fall into tackiness but I really do not believe this would be the case under Murphy’s guidance. Perhaps in different hands we would get a kind of real life “Dynasty” playing out but I think Murphy is too much of a story-teller to put style over substance. He also has a strong story-teller at the helm of this adaptation from the book by Maureen Orth (“Vulgar Favours”). The screenplay is written by Tom Rob Smith, a British writer who made a huge impression from his debut best-selling novel “Child 44” as a purveyor of gripping crime yarns.
The most shocking moment in this first episode was not Cunanan’s shooting of the fashion designer at point blank range (also taking down a dove at the same time) but was when a middle-aged female tourist broke the police cordon and soaked a ripped out page advertising Versace into the fresh blood on the steps in her aim to get a souvenir. Following what “celebrity” does to people would provide a fascinating sub-plot and will be essential if we are going to begin to understand what made this particular killer stalk his prey.
The Assassination Of Gianni Versace is on BBC2 on Wednesday’s at 9.00. The first episode is available on the BBC I-Player.