The Painted Veil: The Movie

Friday, June 6, 2014


As part of the Back to the Classics Challenge, this year’s categories include a movie option. You read a classic book that's been adapted as a movie and then you watch the movie version and review it. I picked The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham and you can find my thoughts on the book here

My review of the movie includes comparisons to the book and assumes you’ve read the book, so there are SPOILERS. As I explained in my review, plot follows a young married couple in the 1920s. After Kitty has an affair, her husband whisks her off to mainland China where he is attempting to help a small village battle a cholera outbreak. I watched the 2006 film version starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts.

The movie follows the same premise, but uses flashbacks to show the time before they travel into the epidemic area. It’s beautifully shot, with sweeping scenes of the Chinese countryside. It plot veers slightly from the book and focuses on some larger social issues, which was interesting. It takes a much more dramatic look at everything. There’s an added war lord, heightened problems between the British and locals, and a tense chase scene through the streets. There’s also a bigger focus on Walter trying to find solutions to the water access issue for the village.

None of those added elements takes away from the story and some of them add a bit of perspective to the situation. Really I think the biggest change from the book is the character of Walter, Kitty’s stoic husband. I felt like he was more likeable in the book. He comes across as incredible cold and cruel in the movie and a few key points are changed. His offer to let Kitty divorce him was an afterthought, in the book it’s an important strategic decision. On his deathbed he is the one who apologizes to Kitty, which is the absolute opposite of what happened in the book.

The other major change was the ending. In the book Kitty understands her husband better, but she never falls in love with him. The true transformation is within herself and she has to go back to her old life to truly see how much she has changed. She returns to Charlie and realizes she can’t be happy with how things used to be. In the movie we see her years later with her son and she runs into Charlie on the street. It actually worked really well that way and I almost liked that ending better. I certainly think it works better on film because it’s less complicated.

Two thumbs up for the beautiful film and book. Though they differ on certain parts, the overall message is the same and the costumes and scenery of the movie are just gorgeous! 

p.s. Bonus for Game of Thrones fans, Lady Olenna, one of my favorite people on the show, plays a nun in the film!


Jillian said...

I didn't know this was adapted into a movie. Now I'm curious to watch it!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jillian - It's beautifully done!