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Painted Veil, The


Stars: Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Toby Jones, Liev Schreiber, Diana Rigg

Director: John Curran

Past the age where an upper-class English girl can be safely single, social butterfly Kitty (Watts) rushes into marriage with Walter Fane (Norton), a bacteriologist about to go to Shanghai.

It seems like the prefect escape from her overbearing mother (Maggie Steed), especially when she's able to relieve her boredom in an affair with vice-consul Charlie Townsend (Schreiber). Alas, the strait-laced Walter quickly finds out and offers Kitty the choice between an ignominious divorce and accompanying him to the remote Chinese interior to fight a cholera epidemic.

Once there Kitty, initially distraught, gradually becomes the woman in whom he saw such possibilities. He agrees that 'we were wrong to look for qualities in each other that we don't have.'

Meantime, Walter has found out that the local well is one of the main sources of infection - a case, for the villagers, of the tainted pail. And danger lurks not only in the epidemic, but in young Chinese men who hate the British.

Foir much of its running time, this looks like one of those early CinemaScope films of the 1950s, all set in far flung lands (it was indeed bungled by MGM in 1957 as The Seventh Sin, following a Greta Garbo version in 1934).

This, though, sticking closer to Somerset Maugham's original novel, was shot amid the misty beauty of the real China, and has particularly good performances from Watts, from Jones as the local commissioner, and from Rigg as the mother superior who tells the reformed Kitty that 'When love and duty are one, the grace is within you.'

The screenplay, however, takes rather too long to bring Kitty and Walter back together, almost to the point where we share Kitty's boredom in her remote surroundings, and adds a slightly rushed feel to later proceedings.

But, like its heroine, the film comes good in the end, and does touch our emotions.

David Quinlan

USA/UK/China/Australia 2006. UK Distributor: Momentum (Warner Classics). Colour by De Luxe.
125 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 1, Swearing 0.

Review date: 21 Apr 2007