• The name of Flavio Calzavera does not immediately spring to mind when considering Italian film directors and reviews of his output are far and few between. He is nothing however if not artistic as is evident in the four films he made with the sultry and sensuous Dori Durante(should be 'Doris' but to Italian fascist ears that sounded far too English!)

    Cinecitta was formed with the intention of rivalling the Hollywood studios and Signorina Durante was one of the brightest stars in its firmament as well as being the darling of Mussolini's regime, in more ways than one! Had she not made a speedy exit to South America(where else?!) she might very well have suffered a similar fate at the hands of partisans as that of her ministerial boyfriend.

    She is utterly luminous in this biopic of Virginia Oldoini, the Countess of the title. As one-time mistress of Napoleon 111 her influence, like so many Royal mistresses, extended beyond the bedchamber and she was used by Cavour to persuade the Emperor to support the kingdom of Piedmont.

    In the manner of most biopics of course this film barely skims the service and has gone for glamour rather than in-depth character study. The main theme here is the romance (presumably fictional) beween Virginia and the idealistic Baldo of Andrea Checchi, whilst still married to her much older husband. Baldo is totally opposed to Cavour's policies and she has to make a tough choice between love of him and love of her country........

    No expense has been spared in this sumptuous production which looks absolutely fabulous and has a lush score by Virgilio Doplicher. Signorina Durante is in the full bloom of her beauty here and this, coupled with her obvious 'temperament', makes her eminently watchable. As for Andrea Checchi he was one of Italy's finest character actors but not leading man material and their scenes together lack that indefinable chemistry.

    The final scene which brings to life the great Rococo painting 'The Swing' by Fragonard is utterly priceless. The swing itself is a symbol of infidelity and is particularly apt with the luscious Countess swinging to and fro across the stage whilst Napoleon 111 and Empress Eugenie look on from separate boxes!

    This fascinating female has since been portrayed on film by the lovely but limited Yvonne de Carlo and on the small screen by flash in the pan sexpot Francesca Dellera.