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The Painted Veil

Sometimes the greatest journey is the distance between two people

The death of producer Ismail Merchant led to the dissolution of the Merchant-Ivory team, and seemed also to herald the end of the intelligent, romantic literary period film, typified by "Howard's End" and "A Room with a View." What followed has mostly been piffle aimed at aging art house audiences who like the clothes, the scenery and the sentiment. Advertisement So it is with great surprise and appreciation that we come to "The Painted Veil," John Curran's exceptional adaptation of the 1925 novel by W. Somerset Maugham. Maugham's story of a bad marriage brought to a boil by an act of compassion has been filmed twice before, in 1934 and in 1957. But this version has that element the previous films lacked: a true understanding of Maugham's belief that true love and purpose are inseparable. It is also the first to actually be filmed where the two halves of the drama take place. First, in London, where middle-class Kitty, played by Naomi Watts, has arrived at the age where she must pay the piper for her jazz-age life of parties and pointlessness: Her parents are insisting she make a "good marriage" and soon. When the engagement of her younger sister only makes the proximity of horrid mother even more difficult to bear, Kitty agrees to marry a quiet, stolid -- but to Kitty, remarkably boring -- bacteriologist, Walter Fane (Edward Norton), who for reasons that do not seem immediately definable, professes to have fallen in love with her. But she is all too soon engaged in an affair with Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber), a married investor who is part of their extremely limited social circle. Her betrayal is discovered and, in a set of circumstances all too deliciously perfect to be revealed here, soon finds herself literally Shanghaied: Fane, distraught over a cholera epidemic in China, has volunteered to work in a country village whose residents are dying in great numbers, indicating that the source of the disease could be near. That Kitty will not live long in a prison she has helped construct is a given, but her transformation here is no contrived enlightenment; it is genuine awakening, beautifully and convincingly conveyed by Watts, who has quietly transformed into one of the screen's best actors. Norton gives a performance of both great subtlety and depth, which at this point in his career is hardly a surprise.
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Directed by: 
John Curran
Running Time: 
Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber
Screenplay by: 
Ron Nyswaner based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham

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