Movie Review – The Painted Veil (2006)

Director: John Curran

Stars: Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Toby Jones, Diana Rigg

Walter (Norton) is an intelligent but rather dull man who studies infectious diseases. Kitty (Watts) is a free-spirited young woman who finds her family tiresome, so enters into a marriage of convenience. Very soon after being married she engages in an affair with Charlie (Schreiber), but Walter has accepted a position in a remote Chinese village that is suffering from an outbreak of cholera. The two of them aren’t trusted by the locals and they don’t trust each other, but they only have each other to rely on.

The Painted Veil is based on a story by W. Somerset Maugham, who regular readers of my blog will know is my favourite writer. As a result I was excited to begin, because I love his stories so I’m sure to love a film based on one of his stories, right? As it happens I haven’t actually read the story the film adapts so I can’t speak to how well it translates the written word, but it does contain the usual complex human relationships in which Maugham specialises.

The direction is great, the staging of scenes and the setting of the landscapes are superb. I liked how the struggles of the village were paralleled with the struggles of the marriage. Norton and Watts showed passion for the material and I liked how their relationship developed. It was also good to get a window into a part of history that’s not really commented on, I mean, before this I didn’t really have any idea of the plight of Chinese villages against cholera.

My only disappointment was with the ending. Perhaps it’s just because I didn’t feel like I was ready for the movie to end, but it felt like there was more to explore. I still liked the movie though. I think it’s very good and I hope that people who watch it will take note that it’s based on a story by Maugham so they go and seek out more of his work.


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