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The Painted Veil

A movie directed by John Curran

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Stellar Performances Amidst Grand Scenic Backdrop

  • Jun 18, 2007
  • by
In this 2007 film adaptation of the Somerset Maughn novel, lead actors Edward Norton and Naomi Watts render subtle and praiseworthy performances that brings this classic story of an adulterous wife's voyage of self-discovery during the cholera epidemic in 1920's China to a grand panoramic celluloid life akin to the scenic beauty depicted in "Out of Africa" complimented with a soaring soundtrack by Alexandre Michel Desplat. Alluding to the first line of the sonnet by Percy Blythe Shelley:

"Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear,"

the film's characters waltz around this theme of perceived images and identities. Dr. Walter Fane is blinded by his wife's selfishness while Kitty sees her husband only as a functionary intent on his duty. Only when the two "lift" the painted veil of these iconic public personas do they actually see within and glimpse at each other's spirits.

For me, any film featuring Edward Norton is worth watching. As Dr. Walter Fane in this adaptation of the Somerset Maughn novel, "The Painted Veil," again, this superb actor does not disappoint.

Some reviewers claim that Norton's performance seems wooden and two-dimensional. I disagree. Norton's boyish good looks add to his vulnerability as a husband who has discovered his wife's indiscretion. The seemingly cardboard sternness he projects shimmers with nuanced frustration, anger and pride; he cannot look at his wife for fear that with one glance she will glimpse the soft underbelly he has hidden beneath his outraged austerity.

Similarly, Naomi Watts equally outdoes herself as Kitty, the wayward wife. With her brunette marcel-styled hair - I have to wonder at this choice of looks for this character---she epitomizes the selfish, emotionally immature woman that wins and breaks Norton's heart. Kitty's ultimate epiphany occurs gradually. Watt's perfect porcelain complexion glows like a waxing moon as she untangles herself from her own preoccupation and see the man she married as truly noble and more than worthy of lifetime devotion.

The film's one fault may be that once its climatic scene plays out, the ending follows far too quickly, forcing the audience to digest Kitty's reawakened self-awareness in a drive-thru timeframe rather than in the deliberate haute cuisine mode it deserves.

Bottom line? "The Painted Veil" offers much to an audience that favors the "Masterpiece Theatre" genre of entertainment. A lush backdrop, notable performances and a classic story succeed in propelling the viewer back in time to the uncertain yet familiar territory explored by the human heart. Recommended.
Diana Faillace Von Behren

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More The Painted Veil reviews
review by . April 07, 2009
It is the 1920s in England, and Walter (Edward Norton), a shy, bookish doctor marries vivacious Kitty (Naomi Watts) who just wants to get away from her mother. They move to China where Kitty strays with a dashing diplomat while Walter decides to go up-country to fight a cholera epidemic.     This tale of repression and desire left me strangely cold. Norton lamely attempts a British accent but is never even remotely convincing as the awkward doctor; he just looks too American. …
review by . July 31, 2008
This beautifully produced motion picture should have worked. the cinematography, the talented cast, the music, the backdrops. And all of this is beautifully done. What is missing is life, elan. Some activity would have been nice. Once, the good doctor confronts his wife about her infidelity, nothing much takes place. Yes, there's a cholera epidemic in the midst of some of the most stunning scenery on earth. Yes, two previously irreconcilable spouses, probably never in love in the first place, somehow …
review by . June 06, 2008
Pros: Great performance by principles; beautiful scenery.     Cons: Somewhat boring and predictable      The Bottom Line: With its sweeping vistas of the Chinese countryside and superb leading performances, The Painted Veil is well worth a look.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. Edward Norton is not your quintessential Hollywood actor. He quietly goes about his craft shunning the spotlight that …
review by . December 17, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Beautiful scenery, subtlety of acting      Cons: Pacing is in fits and starts, not for a casual viewer      The Bottom Line: The film takes a bit of getting used to, but once you are past that hump, it is worth the time it takes to stick it out.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.      The Painted Veil is a Somerset Maugham short story adapted by John Curran. …
review by . October 07, 2007
Unfortunately I Never read the novel but I found the movie to be impressive. THE PAINTED VEIL tells the story of Kitty Fane (Naomi Watts) trapped in a loveless marriage to biologist husband Walter (Edward Norton.) When she has an affair with English Vice Consul Charlie Townsend (Live Shreiber), Walter takes Kitty into the cholera-ridden areas of central China in the hope of curing both the peasants and his marriage.    The journey of China becomes a metaphor for the pair's deep …
review by . May 10, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Though some readers who are familiar with the novel, 'The Painted Veil', may have quibbles about the altered sequences and places of action and character emphasis in Ron Nyswaner's screenplay, those disparities pale in comparison to the superb acting and cinematic treatment of Maugham's story about the development of love in the most unlikely situation. John Curran directs his superb cast with fluid movement, allowing the story to unfold in flashbacks in a manner suggestive of the longing and the …
About the reviewer
Diana Faillace Von Behren ()
Ranked #167
I like just about anything. My curiosity tends to be insatiable--I love the "finding out" and the "ah-ha" moments.      Usually I review a book or film with the … more
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The third film version of Somerset Maughm's 1925 novel--directed by John Curran--is ripe with stunning Chinese locales and a smart turn from Naomi Watts as Kitty Fane, the aging English socialite who must put herself in strange and turbulent surroundings before she finds her true self. A complex and beautiful international production, this adaptation benefits greatly from the lack of restrictions that inhibited its previous incarnations in 1925 (with Greta Garbo) and in 1957 (as THE SEVENTH SIN). <br> <br> After pressure from her wealthy parents to settle down, Kitty marries mild-mannered bacteriologist Walter (Edward Norton), despite her lack of love for him. Shortly after their vows, he takes her to Shanghai, where she immediately has an affair with Charles Townsend (Liev Shrieber), an English Vice Consul. Walter becomes aware of Kitty's indiscretion and promptly whisks her away to the mountain village of Mei-tan-fu, where they befriend another English expat, the secretly decadent Deputy Commissioner...
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