The most interesting sequences arise from Pennetta’s interrogation, which reveals Violet as, for all her religious fervour, decidedly sane. Her assessment of Italian Fascism is Cassandra-like in its prescience. When Pennetta jibes that it isn’t “her Italy anymore”, she retorts, “It isn’t yours now, either.”
Pennetta’s chief adversary isn’t Violet, but a regime intent on stage-managing an outcome to avoid international incident, make Mussolini look benevolent and merciful, and see Violet deported and committed to an asylum.
Lythe and Parker are compelling as two honourable foes playing a game of cat-and-mouse that can only have one result – the great irony being that Violet’s crime merely bolstered Mussolini’s power and hastened the introduction of his secret police.
Though the central antagonism is brooding and finely etched, some of the surrounding material looks tacky. It needs a more heightened and precise performance style, and better design, to pull off Violet’s visions of saints and martyrs.
A more streamlined approach – even turning it into a two-hander – might have made I Shot Mussolini stronger, but it remains an intriguing drama based on a true crime that could have changed history.