Veronica's lover Marco (Rufus Sewell) is discouraged by his family from marrying Veronica because her family is of humble means. Thus, he goes on to marry another woman of his status. Veronica and her mother (Jacqueline Bisset) must think of the future and find financial security, and Veronica's mother lays out the options. One of the few options that Veronica has in her time is to go to a convent, where she would be safe and protected, but it's not a life that fits her personality. So, Veronica's mother suggests that Veronica try to be a courtesan like her mother and grandmother before her once were. At first Veronica is less than enthusiastic about the idea of becoming a courtesan, but soon she becomes excited by the pleasures and freedom the lifestyle offers. Veronica agrees and her mother prepares her for that world.
Once she is a courtesan Veronica has new freedoms that she never had before. She is allowed to educate herself, a great privilege in a time when many women weren't allowed to be educated. She enters a luxurious lifestyle where she and other courtesans are allowed to go where even the wives of the noble men are not allowed. She is able to socialize with kings and royalty, and influence them politically. In this world, she again meets Marco and they have an affair during his marriage. Although Marco attempts to get to know his wife, he prefers Veronica over her. But the life of a courtesan is a dangerous one, as a courtesan could end up on the streets if careless or betrayed by a jealous and spurned lover. Franco's career involves her in politics when the King of France visits.
Veronica finds herself in danger and is attacked by the Inquisition for witchcraft. The fact that several tens of thousands recently died in Venice of the plague lends momentum to this search for a scapegoat. Veronica is dragged to court, where Marco attempts to defend her. At first her trial seems hopeless, but in the end all the men that learned so much from the pleasure of her company have her acquitted of her crimes and she and Marco are finally allowed to be together.
The film opened in limited release on February 20th 1998 to mixed but mostly positive reviews, receiving a 69% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Jack Mathews of the LA Times described it as "both blessed and cursed with inspiration." In its first week it did well, earning a per theater average of $10,598 across ten theaters. Dangerous Beauty eventually opened across 313 theaters, but failed to live up to its initial promise, earning only 4.5 million domestically.