The Painted Veil (8/10)
by Tony Medley
This is a movie for
sophisticated adults, those who enjoy a sensitively nuanced story. It’s
a long (2 hours), slow, gritty story of adultery, maturation, and
romance set in ‘20s China, the third remake of the Somerset Maugham
Kitty Fane (Naomi Watts) is a
frivolous beauty quickly courted and wed by research
bacteriologist-physician Walter Fane (Edward Norton), who immediately
takes her to his job in Shanghai. There she meets Charlie Townsend (Liev
Schreiber) who promptly beds her. Walter discovers her infidelity,
accepts a position deep in China where there is a horrible outbreak of
Cholera, the clear implication being that he wants her to die with him.
She has little choice but to accompany him.
That happens in the first
half hour. The rest of the movie is the beautiful Kitty’s trying to get
along with the deeply hurt and obdurate Walter while they are both
combating and fending off cholera in the midst of Chinese political
turmoil. While it sounds as if it could be inalterably dreary in other
hands, this movie is a winner because of many aspects. First is the
script (Ron Nyswaner), which is full of spare but realistic dialogue.
Another is the beautiful location in Quangxi province in southern China
and the captivating cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh. Even if the
script weren’t compelling, the photography would keep you riveted. John
Curran directs what could have been dreadful with a deft touch. Finally,
the acting of Watts and Norton (both of whom also produced) is first
rate, accompanied by equally accomplished performances by Toby Jones as
Waddington, the English civil servant in the Chinese village, and Diana
Rigg as the Mother Superior of a convent school in the village who takes
an interest in Kitty. Norton, who never seems to give anything but an
exceptional performance, is a wonder as the cuckold who just can’t come
to grips with what his wife has done to him.
Curran has the talent so
lacking in modern directors to show romance and passion without nudity.
Not only is there not a nipple in sight, there isn’t even any cleavage.
Yet he films a love scene that is as full of sexual tension as any you
will see in film.
This passed the watch test
for me with flying colors, although I wonder how much I was influenced
by Watts’ beauty. She’s in almost every scene and is a joy to watch.
In English and Mandarin