Seduction and Salvation in China

painted_veil

The Painted Veil

This beautiful film gorgeously directed by John Curran and based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham is set in China in the 1920’s is a sumptuous tale of seduction and salvation told with an ironic eye about a young woman who marries a micro-biologist and bacterial specialist featuring superb performances by Naomi Watts and Edward Norton.

The young scientist needs a wife and the young woman needs to escape the confines of her suburban Chelsea family. Initially the young couple live in the exotic city of Shanghai and then due to an indiscretion on the wife’s part, as punishment the Doctor takes her to a cholera infected village in rural China, where she learns with humility about atonement and the true sacrifice involved in staying married at whatever the cost. The Painted Veil is shot in gorgeous colours making the most of the dramatic Chinese landscape and with a beautiful score by Alexandre Desplat (who was hailed for his original music for the Oscar winning Stephen Frears film, The Queen.) and consequently won a Golden Globe award for Best Original Score for this film.

Most notable is the strong performances by the two leading actors, both entirely underrated, Edward Norton playing the brutal and slightly calculating doctor who learns to treat his wife as more than a personal assistant, and Naomi Watts who plays Kitty the naive young Englishwoman who finds salvation in the most unlikely locations and with the assistance of Mother Superior, a wonderful cameo by Diana Rigg.

This 2006 film surely did not get all the praise it was worth upon release but will remain an undiscovered cinematic gem. The Hollywood Foreign Press described The Painted Veil as one of the most beautiful films ever made. The cinematography and the mesmerizing music by Alexandre Desplat withstanding, this film is well worth watching and could easily be considered a 21st century classic.

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