Based on the 1925 Maugham novel of the same title, The Painted Veil (2006) takes it's name from a verse of Shelley "Lift not the painted veil which those who live call life." In this story, however, the veil is indeed lifted as a man and a woman discover true life and true love by giving their lives for others. A dull civil servant, Dr. Fane, brilliantly played by Edward Norton and a shallow, silly debutante called Kitty (Naomi Watts) make a disastrous marriage of convenience. Only by going to a remote area of China to assist some helpless villagers in a cholera epidemic do the couple find themselves and each other. Dr. Fane is revealed to be man of courage and ingenuity; Kitty, with the help of some feisty nuns, learns to put the needs of other people first. Her inner depths are unveiled as she discovers the reality of love. Diana Rigg portrays the Mother Superior who describes her own spiritual journey to Kitty. It is one of the best descriptions of the dark night of the soul that I have ever heard in a contemporary film. Visually breathtaking, The Painted Veil was filmed on location in rural China; it can be enjoyed just for the scenery. As one review says:
Maugham couldn't show us the China that opened Walter's and Kitty's eyes to a world beyond their own; the film does. And Maugham didn't have the benefit of two actors -- Norton and Watts nail every nuance in their roles -- who could show the romance inherent in mutual respect. The Painted Veil has the power and intimacy of a timeless love story. By all means, let it sweep you away.Here is another review which compares the film with the book. To quote:
Dry as dust on the page and nearly as hard to grab hold of, Walter registers as a far more robust character on the screen. The novel centers on Kitty and contains large swaths of her cogitating and fretting by way of the third person narration, but the film opens up the story to embrace her and Walter more equally.Share
An inveterate stealer and masticator of scenes, Norton is very fine here, especially early on, before his billing gets the better of the story and he begins riding around heroically on horseback. When Walter confronts Kitty with her betrayal, he grabs her arm and with bloodcurdling quiet threatens to strangle her if she interrupts him.
Again, this isn't Maugham; it's an American actor having his way with a character, beautifully. The British restraint, which Maugham conveys with pages of speeches and even a tiny bow, boils inside this American body like molten violence. Whether through craft or constitution, Norton invests Walter with a petty cruelty that makes his character's emotional thaw and Kitty's predicament all the more poignant.