March 1st, 2008


The Painted Veil

I watched The Painted Veil recently with Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, and found it quietly beautiful - even with some rather too realistic portrayals of cholera. (Although cholera acted as a MacGuffin, I found the research and actions that were taken to stop its progression were interesting and believable, after reading about it recently in The Great Stink.)

The film is based on a Somerset Maughan book, and the language appears almost cliched now as the typical stilted phrases of the thirties. But I say almost, since the performances of the two main actors provided the depth that the words struggle to convey on their own. I've always admired Edward Norton as an actor, since seeing him in Primal Fear. He usually plays unsettling roles, and although his character in this was more commendable than usual, there was a streak of almost insane cruelty brought on by jealousy that came to the fore in the performance without making the doctor a monster.
I don't know Naomi Watt's work so well, but she was able to believably take the doctor's wife from shallowness to a more complex view of life. The interaction between the two really worked for me, with moments of awkwardness, pain and tenderness that seemed to flow very naturally from the relationship. The actors around them provided good support, and I enjoyed a rather unexpected cameo by Diana Rigg, as a Mother Superior, who gave in a short scene a wonderful description of duty and love.

The film was shot on location in China and the scenery was beautiful and looked very much like Chinese landscape art. Which indicates that Chinese artists were very skilled at capturing their land in images. I remember the same impresssion when visiting Suffolk, where I thought the land and skies looked just like a Constable painting, and realised it was Constable's talent which made them look familiar.