The Painted Veil
Written by Nobuhiro Hosoki
Hollywood has already made two stabs at producing Somerset Maugham's 1925 novel "The Painted Veil." This time around, director John Curran's sumptuous adaptation gives us a fresh take on China's oppressive society, and might have crossover appeal as a result. We are reeled into this film through a glamorous party in England, where Kitty (Naomi Watts), a young spoiled debutante, is suffocating under her rigid and rather conservative parents who hold her to the tradition that once she has become a certain age, she must be a proper lady even if she's not yet married.
Fortunately, she is quickly rescued by the bookish bacteriologist Dr. Walter Fane (Edward Norton), who makes a hasty proposal. In her yearning to escape, she impulsively accepts. The couple move to Shanghai, a blooming city in the 1920s, where she tries to immerse herself into British colonial society. But she soon realizes that she and her husband have nothing in common. As soon as she is introduced to Charlie (Liev Schreiber). the slick and ambitious English consul, she immediately and recklessly takes on an adulterous affair with a married man.
Just when Walter discovers their indiscretion, he offers her a cruel bargain: either accept his divorce or accompany him to a remote inland region that has been ravaged by a cholera outbreak. Kitty soon learns that Charlie finds it too risky to take her in and put his job in jeopardy, so she has no choice to head for the town of Mei-Tan-Fu.
After the couple has been carried in a sedan chair for days, they are finally thrust into the harsh environment of their new place. They barely tolerate each other's company, then become prisoners of wintry isolation there. Walter vigorously throws himself into trying to stem the spread of cholera. Kitty, out of boredom, finds occasional companionship in Waddington (Toby Jones, recently seen as Truman Capote in "Infamous"), the seedy representative of the deputy commissioner.She eventually comes to an appreciation of her husband once she gets involved with a group of French nuns that are helping the local kids in the classroom. Embraced by the Mother Superior (Diana Rigg), who gives a lesson of grace and human dignity, Kitty and Walter slowly find an unexpected, redemptive love in an isolated country under bizarre circumstances.But their happiness doesn't last long.
Director John Curran transports us into a different time and place, depicting a subtle truth about the behavior of infidelity and discord, allowing two of the finest actors to deliver an incisive performance. He has simply turned a depressing story into an oddly hopeful one, accessible to our generation that is not too keen on reading. A luminously beautiful Naomi proves herself again by exhibiting a straightforward but strong performance of a repressed wife who is acting out. Norton approaches his role as a tough-as-nails with character who carries the greatness of humanity in the core of his heart. Director of photography Stuart Dryburgh takes advantage of actual locations, capturing the beauty of the Chinese countryside. This film demonstrates that life's lessons of spiritual emptiness can be mortal to our lives.
Directed by John Curran
written by Ron Nyswaner
Based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham
Director of photography:Stuart Dryburgh
Edited by Alexandre de Franceschi
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Production designer:Tu Juhua
Produced by Sara Colleton, Jean-François Fonlupt,
Bob Yari, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts
Released by Warner Independent Pictures.
Running time: 125 minutes.
Cast: Naomi Watts (Kitty Fane)
Edward Norton (Walter Fane)
Liev Schreiber (Charlie Townsend)
Toby Jones (Waddington),
and Diana Rigg (Mother Superior).