The Painted Veil is an odd little movie in that instead of being about a couple falling in love after they meet, itís about a couple discovering love after they have already been married for many years. This interesting twist is what makes this film worth checking out.
Itís the story of a British microbiologist and his wife, living in Shanghai, who are in a loveless marriage. He is distant and focused on his work. She is in the relationship to escape her family and her beauty attracts the attention of another man. He captures her in her affair and threaten to divorce her. She has a choice, leave with the other man or accompany him on a trip into the heart of China to fight a cholera epidemic. After being rejected by the other man she leaves with her husband, convinced her life is miserable.
Like any romance, you know where the story is going. The pleasure is to be found in how they get there. With The Painted Veil, the added pleasure comes from the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this courting. Itís a beautiful little story set in a beautiful little world. Namoi Watts and Ed Norton are both strong in their roles and it is a bittersweet joy to watch them come together.
The film is restrained in its romance. They donít lay it on too think which saves the film from becoming too melodramatic. It also keeps the audience at a bit of a distance. Their British stoicism is reflected in this and maybe we donít cry as much as we might at the right moments. Still, the story is touching and classy.
Adding class is the supporting performance of Diana Rigg as the Mother Superior of the local convent. It has always been a pleasure to see her in films and she still carries such an attractive screen presence.
The only thing that bugged me about The Painted Veil is that there is no reference to the title in the film. I hate it when films have some obscure title which tells you nothing about the story or characters. There is not one veil in the film and saying that itís some sort of metaphor is a stretch. Maybe the moment of significance came in the brief minutes I had got up to go to the bathroom but I doubt it.