'The Painted Veil' Synopsis

Based on the classic novel by Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil is a love story set in the 1920s that tells the tale of a young English couple, Walter, a middle class doctor and Kitty, an upper-class woman, who get married for the wrong reasons and relocate to Shanghai, where she falls in love with someone else. When he uncovers her infidelity, in an act of vengeance, he accepts a job in a remote village in China ravaged by a deadly epidemic, and takes her along. Their journey brings meaning to their relationship and gives them purpose in one of the most remote and beautiful places on earth.

Kitty is an upper class London socialite closing in on an age when a proper lady must find a husband. To remain unwed much longer would be highly unbecoming, not to mention humiliating for her exceedingly socially conscious mother. Bored with her privileged lifestyle anyway and yearning for escape, Kitty accepts a proposal of marriage from Dr. Walter Fane, a quiet, serious bacteriologist who moves the new couple to Shanghai.

In the strange city -- which is blooming into the center of popular culture, political intrigue and vice in China -- the Fanes venture out into British colonial society, where they are introduced to English Vice Consul Charles Townsend. While Walter dedicates himself to his work and to his new wife, Kitty embarks on an adulterous affair with Charlie.

After Walter learns of her indiscretion, he accepts a job in a remote village in China ravaged by the deadly cholera epidemic, and forces a despondent Kitty to accompany him.

Following the Fanes arrive in the village of Mei-tan-fu, the couple's wintry isolation continues. Kitty befriends a neighbor, Deputy Commissioner Waddington, and the emotional trappings of her former life slowly fall away as she begins to confront the reality of her surroundings. Amid the human wreckage of the cholera epidemic, which has given both spouses new purpose, Kitty and Walter discover forgiveness, understanding, even tenderness -- and rediscover each other.

Comments (1)

  1. Steven Saw

    Watts and Norton present The Painted Veil in vivid, true to life colors
    The Painted Veil has all of the elements a viewer looks for in a period piece set during the time of British colonial rule. Beautiful scenery and costumes, a cast of thousands, and enough background information to make you feel you are more educated about a time and place than you were before you saw the movie.

    What this film offers the fortunate viewer that many other movies of its kind do not, are lead characters you can actually empathize with and grow to care about. "Walter" and "Kitty" are far more likable and worth rooting for than- I don't know, let's say- Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas in the English Patient (see? I don't even remember their characters' names.) The movie's tagline- "Sometimes the greatest journey is the distance between two people" succinctly points to the heart of this film, and what makes it work so well; the journey of a couple who married for the wrong reasons towards true intimacy with each other.

    On one level, the plot is so simple and straightforward that a one line summary gives the whole story away, and for that reason, I will refrain from providing that information as much as possible. It is enough to know that it is the story of The Fanes- Walter, the shy, bookish bacteriologist, and Kitty, the shallow, haughty young woman he becomes infatuated in and persuades to marry him. Walter takes Kitty to Shanghai, where he works in a government lab. Circ*mstances lead Walter to re-locate them to a more remote area of China in the throes of a cholera epidemic. It is in this setting that the parallel stories unfold; the story of a doctor and his wife living in the house of a dead missionary's family as the doctor tries to get control of the conditions responsible for the epidemic, and the story of the couple's journey towards re-discovering each other.

    The impressive skill that Ms. Watts and Mr. Norton bring to their work truly makes you believe that that the first challenge- combating cholera amid colonial unrest and nationalist hostilities is easier than the task of repairing a damaged marriage, and with each uneasy glance and every unsaid word, you feel what these two people feel. And that is the beauty of The Painted Veil. Fans of Ms. Watts and Mr. Norton will have reason to rejoice- this is a performance unlike any I have ever seen Ms. Watts give. There is nothing of what was becoming her trademark "emotionally fragile woman in shambles" persona on display here. And what of Edward Norton? Well, after his turn in The Illusionist earlier in the year and now "Walter Fane," all I can say is, move over, Ralph Fiennes- there's a new sexy "repressed, stiff-upper-lipped, sensually simmering under the surface" leading man in town.

    The Painted Veil is an intelligently adapted, well-directed film with two charismatic, award-worthy lead performances and a strong supporting cast, including Liev Schreiber, Diana Rigg, and most notably Toby Jones as the Fanes' neighbor. It is also wonderfully entertaining, and a good introduction to the period piece/historical epic genre some viewers have been avoiding due to fear of suffocation.

    12 months agoby @Steven-SawFlag