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The Painted Veil

Sometimes the greatest journey is the distance between two people. 

Year: 2006 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: Unknown 
Certificate: BBFC 12 Cert – Not suitable for under 12s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from The Painted Veil

Director: John Curran

Starring: Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber

The Painted Veil, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, is a fraught love story of betrayal, punishment and revelation.

Set in the 1920s, the plot follows Dr. Walter Fane (Norton), a middle class doctor and upper class socialite, who marries Kitty (Watts). Fane is a researcher of infectious diseases and is cold and indifferent to Kitty, despite the fact that he loves her; but he is not interested in her games, and is unamused by her forms of entertainment. Kitty marries Fane purely to escape her family and their insistence that she will become an old, unmarried maid. She is spoiled, selfish and just wants to dance, play cards and go out and be entertained. She does not love Fane, using his imminent work relocation to Shanghai as a device for breaking free. However, when she falls in love with diplomat Charlie Townsend, Fane vengefully volunteers for a job in a remote Chinese village ravaged by Cholera, with the vengeful intention of taking Kitty with him. The narrative tells of their struggle to forgive and to understand one another across the barriers of deceit, betrayal and hostility they have both constructed, effectively binding and dividing them.

Norton gives a grave and haunting performance. His unmistakeable tone of voice injects the role of Fane with a brittle bite, and he appears measured and utterly in control of his character and of the plot. Allegedly, Norton himself wanted Watts to play Kitty, and her ethereal, innocent and vulnerable appearance makes her perfect for the role. But she too manages to make the harsh tongued, restless and bitter angriness of Kitty resonate convincingly. The Painted Veil has perfect casting.

Not only is the storyline beautiful, but the location and sweeping cinematography is incredible. The remote landscape of China is presented as huge and intimidating; weather is used particularly to great effect in encompassing the aloof and separate emotions of the characters and the frailty of humanity in the face of nature, in terms of human nature and susceptibility to love, and disease. The use of the musical score that won a Golden Globe enhances this sensation, and imbues Curran’s portrayal of the Orient and the arrival of two searching characters, with mystery and poignant beauty.

Ella Walker

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Screenings of this film:

2007/2008 Autumn Term (35mm)