Based on the novel by Santa Montefiore (yup, that’s the author’s real name!), Last Voyage of The Valentina is a romance mystery taking place between war-torn Italy at the end of WWII and aristocratic London in the early 1970s. The story switches back and forth between Italy and London in the span of about 25 years.
The story begins with a brutal murder at an Italian palazzo in 1945. Twenty years later, this unsolved crime touches the live of the story’s protagonist, Alexa (changed from Alba in the book), a hedonistic but unhappy woman who lives on a houseboat on the Thames named after her mother, Valentina. Propelled by her discovery of a portrait of the mother she never knew, Alexa is determination to find out the truth, which takes her back to Incantellaria, an unexpected jewel hidden within the red cliffs and caves of the Amalfi coast where her parents first met. Themes of love, obsession, decadence and betrayal peppered the drama as she delves deeper into her forbidden past. With the ‘alluring woman of mystery’ that is her mother at the center of it all, the revelation might just be the key of finding happiness in her own future.
I picked director Joe Wright for his work in Atonement (also based on a novel), as I think he’d be able to handle a dark, mysterious tale that’s also unabashedly romantic. After only three full-length features (Hanna will be his fourth), he’s quite an accomplished director who’ve won a BAFTA and was the youngest director ever to have a film open the Venice Film Festival with Atonement. His movies are often beautifully-shot, which is crucial for this story for its depiction of the Italian setting and he’s also displayed a capable hand in handling films with multiple flashback scenes. Also, I’d like him to incorporate one of his long tracking shots, such as this continuous 4.5-minute shot of the Dunkirk evacuation.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Charlize Theron as Alexa Arbuckle
The protagonist of the story. 26-year-old Alexa is the daughter of British naval officer Thomas Arbuckle and the alluringly mysterious Italian beauty Valentina. She’d also play the young Valentina during the flashback scenes (where she’ll be sporting dark brown locks), which would require Charlize to get some dialect coaching to prep for the role.
Long-legged, tanned skin, with long wavy dark hair and piercing blue-grey eyes, Alexa is strikingly beautiful and a free-spirit. Men are drawn to her like bees to honey, but her endless succession of lovers leave her empty and unfulfilled. She may be tough to root for at first due to her hedonistic nature, but she grows up as the story progresses.
Rufus Sewell as Fitzroy Davenport
Viv’s literary agent who pines for Alexa. Described in the book as attractive in a very aristocratic way: intelligent eyes that sparkled with humor; a wide, infectious smile; a strong chin and jaw line; scruffy, with dark curly hair.
Ever so charming yet kind, Fitz plays a large role in Alexa’s quest for her mother and becomes the man she deeply falls for. Rufus is no stranger to romantic roles, as well as being the heartbroken one. But he’s not all longing sigh and yearning gaze, which is why his sense of humor and playfulness will come in handy in spicing up the character.
Michael Fassbender as Gabriele Ricci
Yes I know Fassbender is German but with some tan and dark hair, I think he has no problem playing an Italian gentleman. Witty, gallant and reassuring, Gabriele is the Italian Samaritan who helps Alexa get to Incantellaria after she’s robbed penniless. His part is small but prominent, and with his smoldering quality, he is sure to leave an indelible mark to the viewers.
Alan Rickman as Thomas Arbuckle
I love Rickman’s sensitive portrayal as Col. Brandon in Sense & Sensibility. As Alexa’s estranged father, Thomas rarely speak of his lost love Valentina. Now a wealthy man after the war, the former naval captain has since been married to Margo and has additional children, but he is constantly burdened by his memory of his first love.
Emily Watson as Vivienne ‘Viv’ Armitage
Watson is a passionate and versatile actress who’ll imbue the character of a late 30s London novelist with wit and whimsy. She lives on a boat next to Alexa’s and is the one who introduces Fitz to Alexa. Though Viv is fond of Alexa, she’s also weary of her and knows what the girl is capable of. She constantly warns Fitz not to fall in love with Alexa.
Brenda Blethyn as Margo Arbuckle
As Alexa’s stepmother, Margo can never seem to compete with a dead woman. Despite Alexa’s aversion, Margo is always civil with her difficult step daughter, as well as provide the stability that Thomas needs. Blethyn has a way of portraying a sympathetic female protagonist with a heart.
Rupert Penry-Jones as the young Lit. Thomas Arbuckle
This strapping lad seems born to wear a naval uniform, ehm. Thomas falls hard and fast for Valentina the second he sees her in the crowd of the Italian harbor. After being at sea for over three years patrolling the Italian coastline, Thomas is ready to settle down with the love of his life. When he finds out Valentina is pregnant with Alexa, he’s ecstatic… until her life is robbed far too soon, leaving him devastated.
Alfred Molina as Falco Fiorelli
Alexa’s Italian uncle who’s the same age as her father, late 50s. He’s got brooding looks and formidable physique and a sadness in his dark eyes, making him appear older than he is. He and Thomas harbor a deep, dark secret about Valentina’s death which still haunts him since.
Raoul Bova as the young Falco Fiorelli
Valentina’s eldest brother who came back from the war around the same time Thomas came back to fetch Valentina to England. He’s the only person who knew the truth that Valentina isn’t as innocent as she seems.
Rosamund Pike as Caroline Arbuckle
Thomas and Margo’s eldest daughter and Alexa’s stepsister who’s three years younger than she. She works in a Mayfair art gallery owned by the Arbuckle’s close family friend. She really wants to like Alexa but can’t figure her out.
Maggie Smith as Lavender Arbuckle
Thomas’ 70+ year-old mother who took baby Alexa in when he came back from Italy and loved her as her own daughter. She acts as if she were indifferent about Alexa when in reality she’s actually bitter about being cast aside when Thomas married Margo.
Alessandro Nivola as the Italian stranger
The tall and handsome stranger that caught Alexa’s eye on the plane. He’s flirtatious and incredibly charming, the quintessential Italian playboy.
Franco Nero as Marchese Ovidio
Seventy-something Incantellaria aristocrat who lives on the mansion on a hill, Palazzo Montelimone. Strikingly handsome with slicked-back gray hair, with straight Roman nose and aquamarine eyes. Educated at Oxford, he holds himself with the poise of a prince.
The film opens in 1945 Italy with a quick scene of brutal murder at an Italian palazzo. Two men came in the thick of night armed with knifes. The victim had been expecting them, he knew why they had come and he was ready, unafraid to die. Up until his throat was sliced he was still triumphant, his last words were “Kill me, but don’t forget that I killed you first.”
London 1971 – Viv and Fitz were standing on the deck of Viv’s houseboat on the Thames in a balmy Spring evening. They spied on Alexa who’s ‘entertaining’ one of her lovers on her houseboat. It’s right after her tryst with Rupert, one of her many lovers, that Alexa noticed a brown scroll of paper from between the slats under her bed. She stared at the portrait sketched in pastels and felt a rush of emotions overcame her, it’s like looking into a mirror and the woman’s eyes seemed to follow her as she’s unable to look away. At the bottom of the picture, written in Latin, dum spiro, ti amo (“While I breathe, I love you”) and signed in ink Thomas Arbuckle.
Alexa confronted her father about the portrait and demanded to know more about her mother she never knew. She was resentful that her father had been too busy to build a new family with Margo after Valentina died, and the more children he had, the less Alexa felt that she belonged in the traditional upper-class family. Thomas rarely talked about Valentina, though her presence was still felt in the room, in his eyes. Arguments ensued as Thomas insisted that the past should belong to the past and though he loved her mother, she’s now dead and nothing could ever bring her back. Fuming, Alexa left and vented to her neighbor Viv about her desire to find out more about who her mother was. Viv then suggested that her best friend and literary agent Fitz helped her concoct a plot to dupe her father into divulging details about her mother. Viv’s grand plan is for Alexa and Fitz to spend a weekend together as pretend couple to win the Arbuckles’ heart, and for Fitz to bond with Thomas so that he’s comfortable enough to share about Valentina’s whereabouts. As Fitz had such a huge crush on Alexa, he promptly agreed.
Off to Beechfield Park Mansion where the Arbuckles live, a red-brick and flint,300-year-old house that was passed down from Thomas’ grandfather. Though Alexa only wanted Fitz to charm her parents for her own cause, Fitz actually genuinely wanted the Arbuckles to think well of him and he hoped Alexa would return him with love. Just as Fitz had hoped, that night Thomas poured his heart out as the night wore on and the more wine they drank. As he sat in the worn leather chair in his study, Thomas revealed to Fitz who Valentina was and how she had captivated him. La bella donna d’Incantellaria, he referred to her, and that every time he looked at Alexa, he saw Valentina.
Mission accomplished. Fitz happily reported back to Alexa who was already waiting for him in bed. They didn’t make love until the following morning, and for the first time, Alexa actually spent the night with a man in bed without offering her body to him.
Flashback to Italy, 1944 – Young Lieutenant Thomas Arbuckle and his fellow British naval officers arrived in the Italian harbor of Incantellaria. Thomas and his naval crew was tasked to investigate about an arms dump left by the German army to make sure they didn’t fall into the wrong hands. It’s on the way to the munitions dump, on the quayside, was where Thomas first laid eyes on Valentina and fell for her instantly. At first he lost her in the crowd but later when the town carabiniere (Italian police), Lattarullo took them to the only restaurant in town, he was reunited with her, as Valentina was the youngest daughter of the trattoria’s owner, Immacolata Fiorelli. During his brief stay in Italy, Thomas and his friends were also invited to tea by the town’s aristocrat, Marchese Ovidio at his home, Palazzo Montelimone. Just as they left his house, he ran into a handsome young boy, Nero, who ran errands for the marchese.
Following a highly-superstitious ceremony that Valentina’s family attended religiously, Thomas and Valentina retreated from the townspeople to the beach where they made love. But in the morning, he had to go back to the war.
London 1971 – After sharing an intimate weekend together, Fitz was seemingly able to convince Alexa to be exclusive with him. Fitz had become more than a lover to Alexa, he was also her friend. For a brief few weeks, they were happy together until Alexa demanded that Fitz come to Italy with her, but he felt that’s something she needed to on her own. When Fitz refused, Alexa broke up with him. Fitz was devastated but with Viv’s encouragement, he did not relent. Alexa told her father that she was going to Italy with or without his support.
Flashback to Italy, May 1945 – Thomas returned after the war to see Valentina again. He had received a letter from Valentina nine months prior that she had gotten pregnant with their baby, which made him even more desperate to see her. When the townsfolk saw him, they were ecstatic. Valentina came to him with their 3-month old baby in her arms. Immacolata gave her blessings and they soon planned their wedding as they both took care of little Alexa. Thomas then met the rest of the Fiorelli’s family. Three of Valentina’s four brothers had come back after the war, with Falco the eldest who became the head of the family since their father died in the war. Falco didn’t warm up to Thomas right away. In fact, he seemed to be resentful of her sister Valentina as well and that night, Thomas overheard them arguing fiercely but he just shrugged it off and thought that perhaps he didn’t like a foreigner marrying his sister.
London 1971 – Alexa flew to Italy without Fitz. He tried to see her before she left but it was too late. Alexa had a tryst with an Italian stranger who caught her eye on the plane. But she found out in the morning that he had robbed her of all her money. She fled the hotel and managed to trick the ticket agent at the train station for a free ride to Sorrento. But as soon as she arrived, a moment of distraction cost her her luggage. She was robbed twice in the course of 24 hours!
As she cussed loudly in frustration, another Italian stranger noticed her. Upon hearing what had happened to her, the gentleman offered to buy her lunch as well as a boat ride to Incantellaria. Alexa was weary at first considering what she had been through, but she had no choice but to trust him. Gabriele Ricci was a Naples businessman who often spent his summers on the coast. He made good on his promise and Alexa was soon reunited with her mother’s family. Realizing he was out of place in this family reunion, Gabriele slipped away without a fuss, but not before asking Falco to give his card to Alexa.
Alexa bonded with her mother’s family who welcomed her with open arms and joyful heart, even becoming a motherly figure to her 6-year-old relative Cosima, whose mother had ran away with a tango dancer. Alexa finally found a place she belonged, something she had never found where at Beechfield Park where she grew up. But soon she learned the hard truth about her past. At the trattoria one afternoon, Lattarullo revealed that Valentina had been murdered.
Flashback to Italy, 1945 – The day before the wedding. At three in the morning, Thomas was awaken by a frantic knocking on the door by Lattarullo. He had brought the most harrowing news that Valentina was dead. Along with him and Falco, Thomas found Valentina’s body slumped in the passenger seat of a convertible Alfa Romeo with exquisite leather seat and walnut interior. Her throat had been slashed as blood had stained her sequined dress. At first he didn’t recognize her as she was dressed like an elegant courtesan wearing red lipstick, fur stole and sparkling diamonds.
Fast forward to 1971 Italy – Alexa demanded Falco to tell her the truth about Valentina’s tragic death, who finally revealed that Valentina had been living a double life. Her mother had been the mistress of a famous Mafia boss Lupo Bianco who was dead in the driver’s seat. As Bianco had been hunted down by the police for years, his death was a triumph for the town’s police and to them Valentina was simply a victim who was in the wrong place in the wrong time.
Months went by and suddenly Fitz showed up in a warm night in October, just as Alexa was deciding whether to call him or Gabriele. It’s as if fate made the decision for her as Fitz asked her to marry him. A couple of weeks before they went back to London, Alexa took Fitz to Palazzo Montelimoni, determined to find some answers once and for all. The place had become a ruin with walls crumbling and fallen stones swallowed by ivy and weeds. As they stumbled into the room that seemed to have been lived in, someone came behind them. He was startled to see Alexa as if he had seen a ghost as she had been the splitting image of her mother. He introduced himself as Nero, the same young boy Thomas had bumped into after having tea with Marchese Ovidio. Nero told them he was the marchese’s lover who inherited the decaying palazzo. He explained that the marchese had loved Valentina too, and before they left, he gave Alexa a scroll that apparently Valentina had given the marchese.
That day, Alexa solved the case the Italian detectives didn’t bother to crack. It turns out the marchese had wanted to have an heir with Valentina but became insanely jealous when he found out she had become pregnant with someone else’s child and wanted to leave Italy. Falco somehow found out the marchese had killed Valentina, and so he and Thomas planned to sneak into his house in the middle of the night and kill him in the same way he had robbed Valentina’s life. “It was a matter of honor,” he uttered, the same words he said after he slashed the marchese’s throat.
Alexa and Fitz went back to London. Alexa gave her father the painting that he had been looking for, the third and most intimate portrait of Valentina that he drew. But what mattered more to him was that now Alexa knew the truth and the burden has been lifted. Alexa was ready to move on and leave the dark past of Valentina behind. As a symbol of a new beginning, she and her family let her houseboat sink to the bottom of the river. As she and Fitz planned their wedding, Alexa longed for Italy, her heart ached for her new home and the people that she had grown to love, especially Cosima. With a heavy heart, Alexa told Fitz she had to return to Incantellaria.
Spring in Incantellaria. Alexa now worked at Immacolata’s trattoria – she’d been working hard buying supplies, setting tables, serving customers, even learning how to cook. As she looked out the window overlooking the beach, she heard the sound of a motorboat growing louder. She walked outside to stand beneath the awning with a basket of apples hanging on her arm. A wave of anticipation overcame her as the boat drew up and a familiar young man descended. She had been taking out and staring at his now rumpled business card she’s kept for months, and thought about the kind man who gave it to her. His dark eyes met with her piercing pale eyes. It was then when he last saw her disappear from his view as she was reunited with her family. It was then that he lost his heart, little did he know he’d ever get it back.
Well, what do you think? Would you be interested to see a movie with this kind of story and cast? Please let me know your thoughts.