A sentimental drama set in China between WWI and WWII
- The Painted Veil review by Philip in Paradiso
Walter Fane, a bacteriologist, marries Kitty Garstin (Naomi Watts) and they move to China (Shanghai), where Walter has been posted to work in a government lab, studying infectious diseases. The marriage is soon in trouble, when Kitty starts an affair with a British official in Shanghai...
The film is well-made and the acting is generally good, but the film is almost too slick and too polished to feel 'real' and 'raw'. There is something missing, somehow, which prevents the movie from being a truly great film. But it is still a very good period film that I would recommend if you like that kind of historical love drama.
It is based on a very good novel by S Maugham, which I have read. What bothered me is that the dynamics of the relationship between Dr Fane and his wife have been altered in the film adaptation, and considerably so. In the movie, and without giving too much away, to a certain extent, Dr Fane is the central character, or he is at least as important as Kitty. In the novel, everything revolves around Kitty, primarily. The way that their relationship evolves is very different from what is portrayed in the film.
S Maugham is actually far more radical and much harsher in his portrayal of human nature and sentimental relationships: there are no concessions to 'good taste' and common sensitivities in the novel. The film, probably to please a wider public, drifts towards a more conventional form of romance, somehow, even though the setting is dramatic and even tragic in other ways. Ultimately, the novel's angle is more interesting than the simpler take on the characters put forward in the film. And the novel was written in the 1920s!
On balance, I would recommend the film, but I would advise you to read the book first, if you don't know it. And you will see the difference between a satisfying work of fiction (the movie) and great art (the novel).
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