The Painted Veil
Director/Studio/Author: John Curran/Warner Home Video/w. Somerset Maugham
Original release date: May 8, 2007
Format, Genre and length: DVD/Drama/125 minutes
Publisher/Industry Age Rating: PG-13
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★
The time is 1925, the place China. Dr. and Mrs. Walter Fane, having lived in Shanghai for two years, are traveling to a remote area of the country because of a cholera epidemic, despite the fact that Walter Fane (Edward Norton) is a bacteriologist, not a physician. He and Kitty Fane (Naomi Watts) have lived in China since they were first married.
The trip to the cholera-infested village is a far cry from that of their arrival, as there is a palpable tension between them. It seems that Kitty was unfaithful to him with the Vice Consul of Shanghai, Charlie Townsend (Liev Schrieber). When Walter tells her of the epidemic he has volunteered to help with, she informs him that is no place for a woman, and refuses to go... until he tells her if she does not, he will file for divorce, which would be a heavy blow to her social position.
The Painted Veil, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, explores the relationship between Walter and Kitty against the backdrop of the epidemic. I’ve covered the story in more depth in my review of the book. When I saw there was a film, I was curious to know how well it was adapted to the screen.
The story has been fleshed out somewhat, of necessity, as the novel is in Kitty’s POV, which does not tell us as much as we’d like of Walter and his mindset. I think the screenwriter bridged the gap rather well, and Edward Norton brings him to life, endearing him to me in a way the novel never did.
Naomi Watts plays Kitty well. She begins the film as a shallow, empty-headed woman whose sole goal in life is to be married, not for love but because it’s the thing to do. She justifies her affair to herself because she doesn’t love Walter, and she believes herself in love with Charlie. Well, Walter helps her to see Charlie for what he really is. Her journey is one of self-discovery. At the beginning, Walter loves her very much and she barely sees him, but over the course of the film, she comes to realize his true worth, as well as her own, as they find one another.
Can love make everything right? Unfortunately, some things are beyond its ability to heal, and the film has a bittersweet ending.
It is a well-done adaptation of the novel, and even though it romanticizes their relationship at the end, I think I prefer the changes, which make a potentially depressing film into a sad one. It may not be action-packed—Maugham’s stories seldom are—but it possesses a definite depth of character. Look for Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as Waddington, the Englishman that becomes Kitty’s confidante in a strange land.
The cinematography is beautiful, and so is the music that is used in the soundtrack.
I highly recommend this film if you enjoy such films as The English Patient.