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The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil (2006)

December. 20,2006
| Drama Romance

A British medical doctor fights a cholera outbreak in a small Chinese village, while also being trapped at home in a loveless marriage to an unfaithful wife.


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Filipe Neto

This film is the result of a partnership between the US and China. The script is a cheap romance, in which a futile girl marries without love and betrays her husband, a doctor who truly loves her. From there, they live a marriage that only exists formally and things get worse when they go to a secluded hamlet in China, where an epidemic of cholera broke out. The country's political situation will also cause problems, as China, recently transformed into a republic with the deposition of the last emperor, becomes a troubled country, with internal conflicts and a huge aversion to foreigners.The plot adapts to the cinema an absolutely dry and heartless novel, but it does so in a way that's sometimes a bit melodramatic. I understand the intention: to increase the dramatic effect, the writer sweetened the story and altered it a bit, to make it more digestible. That's good but, just like when making a cake, we have to be careful not to overdo the amount of sugar. Unfortunately, sometimes it abuses the sugar but, at the same time, the epidemic and the misery of the people help to bring the film to a more realistic background and cut through this excessive sweetness. Thus, everything becomes more balanced, harmonious and pleasant. The political part of the plot, however, seem to be totally out of context and never fit into the overall story. I say this because this didn't make any difference in the story itself. It's totally dispensable. What happened here? Did the writer decided not to develop this subplot or Chinese CP demand that the film speak of this issue in a sort of political-historical revisionism? If the later was the true, it was something that did not really interest. China, however it tries to look like a westernized country, will only be truly modern with free and multiparty elections, a free press and freedom of opinion. None of these things exist behind the polluted and ultra-modern image that China likes to show us, and there is no smoke curtain strong enough for the Chinese dictatorship to hide that.Edward Norton and Naomi Watts are two well-known and talented actors. The two have already seen their names on the list of Oscar-nominated actors. They worked very well but Norton's character is more able of captivating public's affection, while she will have a long atonement ahead. Anyway, Watts was able to show the moral and psychological evolution of her character, and that was difficult even for a good actress. The remaining cast, unfortunately, is remarkably insignificant. Toby Jones is good enough but has little to do, as can Diana Rigg and Liev Schreiber. Better than them are the scenarios and cinematography. China has shown in this film some magnificent landscapes, which the film has been able to explore. The soundtrack has some excellent piano pieces of a mournful and sad tone, which harmonizes with the mists, disease and love affairs that are the core of the story itself.


This is one of those movies that should be seen on the big screen because the photography is totally beautiful and much of the movie was shot on location in China (Beijing, Guangxi, and Shanghai) rather than on the MGM back lot of the 1934 version. In size and scope, this new version of W. Somerset Maugham's novel far outshines the 1934 version with Greta Garbo and Herbert Marshall in the leading roles.Also, the characters of Jack Townsend, Waddington, and convent's Mother Superior seem more fully developed. There is enough of a change between story the lines of the 1934 and 2006 movies—particularly at the beginning and the end--that it left me wondering which version was more faithful to Maugham's novel.I have read the novel, but it has been a while.This version starts in London where bacteriologist, Walter Fane (Edward Norton), awkwardly passes through Kitty's home, with Walter and Kitty (Naomi Watts) barely speaking to each other. The two have totally different personalities, lifestyles, and outlooks. In fact, we barely have a clue as to how they EVER got together, except as a marriage arranged by her parents to get her out of the house. This portion of the story is mainly relayed through flashbacks from Kitty's present life in China to her past life in London. While Kitty is flirtatious and bored in China, Walter so socially backward and devoted to his work that the two barely speak to each other, even after their marriage.Kitty's endless ennui is only relieved by an affair with the couples' 'married friend,' Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber). When Walter overhears them together, he says nothing about it. When, he is called to go far into the Chinese inland to manage a raging cholera epidemic, he tells his wife to pack their things. When she refuses to go through the hardship with him, he tells her that he will immediately begin divorce proceedings. After being rebuffed by the Townsend's caddishness, she has no place to go and nothing left to do. She must accompany Walter.Once in the remote village, her life is changed by the epidemic, the poverty, the anti-Eurpoean feelings of the Chinese towards them, their fellow Englishman, Waddington (Toby Jones), the orphans and sick in the convent, and the convent's Mother Superior (Diana Rigg). She watches her husband's hopeless battle against poverty, disease, and local resistance from both the civilians and the military that is assigned to protect them. Her attempts to help, in some way, are met with her husband's rebuff and the Mother Superior's counsel. However, the couple's future depends not only her change but on Walter's ability to forgive her and cope with the hostile atmosphere.This movie combines a good story on a grand canvas. The nature of this drama often depends on restrained acting. No where is this more apparent than with Edward Norton's ability to relate his apparent maladroitness together with his sardonic nature in such a laconic fashion. Yet, Norton is able to do this very well.


The title pulled me into this movie. I'd hoped that the intriguing cover would keep up in the movie, and it totally did! A great movie while you're in need of something with passion, and kindness in the midst of tragedy. I didn't give it a 10 because of the ending. When she sees Charlie again I wanted her to punch him right in the street. I wish the main couple could have had the cheesy long happy life ending and somehow he would find out the baby is his. Oh well! A very good movie. I hope you enjoy the creativity of the camera angles and well written lines in this movie as much as I did. Beautifully made, I will definitely be watching it again.


We found a DVD in our holiday apartment and decided to watch it one evening. Edward Norton , Naomi Watts and Toby Jones are just marvellous in this period piece. It is set in China and is exquisitely shot bringing to life the landscape as we see in old prints and the like. It is delightful and harrowing by turns and it makes the viewer become involved in the main characters lives in a way that few films manage. It is a film about a passionate love, infidelity, forgiveness and reconciliation set against a virulent cholera epidemic. The premise does not sound promising but The Painted Veil delivers on all fronts. Highly recommended.