Prior to viewing director John Curran’s 2006 version of The Painted Veil, one might expect a typical romance full of clichés and predictability. This film, however, is anything but that. As the story unfolds, one is given an honest and captivating look into the minds and hearts of distant lovers. Based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil stars A-list actors Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. Although Maugham’s classic novel has been brought to the screen twice before, it is this third adaptation that triumphs.
Kitty, played by Naomi Watts, is a self-centered Londoner who leisurely spends her time attending parties and using her father’s money. After impulsively marrying Walter Fane, a reserved bacteriologist whom she hardly knows, Kitty begins to have an affair with a married man. When Walter confronts Kitty about her unfaithfulness, he threatens to divorce her on adultery charges unless she agrees to accompany him to a remote area of China where there is a deadly outbreak of cholera. Realizing that a public divorce would ruin her reputation, Kitty reluctantly embarks to disease-ridden China. It is here, of all places, that Kitty and Walter learn that there is much more to each other than they had ever previously imagined.
The Painted Veil is not a fast-paced and bubbly romance. Rather, as this slow-burning, often-times bitter romance unfolds, it takes patience but is ultimately rewarding. Since its themes of love, pain, and forgiveness are universal, viewers can relate, at some level or another, to the internal struggles of Kitty and Walter. Moreover, because great care and consideration went into its wonderfully constructed character development, the film delivers a powerful emotional punch. The strain and tension between the film’s central characters is portrayed with such sincere and painful believability by Watts and Norton that viewers can feel Kitty’s desperation in her unhappy marriage and Walter’s wounded pride from her infidelity. It is from this realism and insight into the complexity of human relationships that makes this a compelling and unforgettable film.
This 2006 edition of The Painted Veil is available at the Ladd Library on DVD. The novel format is also available for those who may be interested. In addition, an audio book format of the novel may be checked out through the Metro Library Network. -Joy