The Painted Veil

Year: 2008
Production Co: Bob Yari Productions
Studio: Warner Independent
Director: John Curran
Producer: Ron Nyswater/W Somerset Maugham
Writer: Edward Norton/Naomi Watts/Bob Yari
Cast: Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Toby Jones, Liev Schreiber
Edward Norton is one of those actors whose presence in the film assures it of a mark of quality almost by association. He's a smart actor and an accomplished producer and you know if he puts his name to something at either the top of the cast or the production credits he's going to do something special with it.

He indeed does with this adaptation of W Somerset Maugham's tale of the consequences of fractured love. It's the roaring 1920s and pretty party girl Kitty (Watts, who produced with film with Norton) decides to marry the staid but boring bacteriologist Walter (Norton) to get away from the overbearing mother desperate to marry her off.

The marriage coasts along, Kitty enjoying an affair with local cad Charlie (Schreiber) until Walter's seemingly endless patience snaps. Come to remote China with me to fight a cholera outbreak, he tells her, or I'll divorce you and leave you in disgrace.

In a revealing look at the place and expectations imposed upon women much like the work of Jane Austen, Kitty has little choice but to agree, and she follows Walter to the Guilin region of China, a beautiful hellhole with no mod cons, nothing to do but drink with their enigmatic British neighbour Waddington (Jones) and a raging epidemic nearby.

It's Walter's punishment for Kitty's behaviour, more deeply for her not loving him, and the two arrive with an air of polite indifference underscored by bitter resentment.

During the generous running time, director John Curran uses the lush, period visuals to let the script show each one's growing and newfound respect for the other when they're put to the trials of their position and responsibilities. In Shakespearian style, the two are bought closer together and almost find the love they both want before fate delivers the decisive blow that will change things forever.

Bombing in the US, The Painted Veil is a hard sell, but if you like seeing classic literature brought to life and you enjoyed movies like Lust, Caution and Amazing Grace Norton and Watts' interplay and the gorgeous production design will enchant you.

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