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Painted Veil

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The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil is a 2006 movie starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton based on a novel by Somerset Maugham. It portrays a beautiful London socialite's marriage of convenience to a shy bacteriologist and the gradual transformation of their relationship from indifference and dislike into deep and abiding love and affection.


Articles on The Painted Veil
When Marriage becomes Romance describes how a woman’s formal marriage compelled by social pressure evolves into a passionate psychological relationship as she discovers deeper human values of goodness and love in the man she married but never loved. See the article and videos.
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Plot Summary

Shallow and lost, Kitty marries the intellectual and passionate Walter Fane, a bacteriologist on leave from the Far East shortly after meeting him at a party. They are so opposite to each other in nature, Walter being an earnest, socially awkward bacteriologist and Kitty, a vivacious and vain London socialite. Kitty enters into this loveless marriage with him at the urging of her domineering mother. Following a honeymoon in Venice, the couple goes to Shanghai, where the doctor is stationed in a government lab studying infectious diseases.

Kitty meets Charles Townsend, a married British vice consul, and the two engage in a clandestine affair. When Walter discovers his wife's infidelity, he seeks to punish her by threatening to divorce her on the grounds of adultery if she doesn't accompany him to a small village in a remote area of China, where he has volunteered to treat victims of an unchecked cholera epidemic sweeping through the area. Kitty begs to be allowed to divorce him quietly and he agrees, provided Townsend will leave his wife Dorothy and marry her. When she proposes this possibility to her lover, he declines to accept, and she is compelled to travel to the mountainous inland region with her husband. They embark upon an arduous, two-week-long overland journey that would be considerably faster and much easier if they traveled by river, but Walter is determined to make Kitty as unhappily uncomfortable as possible. Upon their arrival in Mei-tan-fu, she is distressed to discover they will be living in near squalor, far removed from everyone except their cheerful neighbor Waddington, a British deputy commissioner living with a young Chinese woman in relative opulence.

Walter and Kitty barely speak to each other and, except for a cook and a Chinese soldier assigned to guard her, she is alone for long hours. After visiting an orphanage run by a group of French nuns, Kitty volunteers her services, and she is assigned to work in the music room. She is surprised to learn her husband loves children from the Mother Superior, and in this setting she begins to see him in a new light as she learns what a selfless and caring person he can be. He in turn realizes she is not the shallow, selfish person he thought her to be when he sees her with the children. As Walter's anger and Kitty's unhappiness subside, their marriage begins to blossom. She soon learns she is pregnant, but is unsure who the father is. Walter – in love with Kitty again – assures her it doesn't matter. Just as the local cholera problem is coming under control, ailing refugees from elsewhere pour into the area, forcing Walter to set up a camp outside town. He contracts the disease and Kitty nurses him but he dies, devastating his expectant wife. Five years later, while shopping with her young son Walter in London, Kitty meets Townsend on the street. He suggests the two get together but she rejects his overtures and walks away, telling her son Townsend is "no one important" when he asks who he is.


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The Painted Veil
Directed by John Curran
Written by Somerset Maugham (novel), Ron Nyswaner (screenplay)
Starring Edward Norton as Walter Fane,Naomi Watts as Kitty Garstin Fane,      
Liev Schreiber as Charles Townsend
Copyright belongs to Warner Pictures



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When Marriage becomes Romance


More often than not love at first sight turns out to be infatuation with an illusion that quickly turns sour or ends in utter disillusionment, like Elizabeth Bennet's brief romance with the handsome, charming, and totally unscrupulous Mr. Wickham in Pride & Prejudice. More rarely an initial dislike or indifference is transformed by closer intimacy into a deep and abiding love and affection as Elizabeth eventually found with Mr. Darcy. A similar transformation is portrayed in The Painted Veil, a 2006 movie starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton based on a novel by Somerset Maugham.

Until recently marriage has been a physical and social necessity for most women and love, a luxury to be pursued in dreams or secret rendezvous away from public view. Kitty's wedding to Dr. Walter Fane was destined to be precisely such a marriage of necessity. Kitty was a pretty but aging socialite with an empty head and trivial interests under pressure to marry and leave the shelter and support of her parents. Resigned to an unfulfilling marriage to a stiff and awkward stranger, she accepted the proposal of Dr. Fane, who sought to marry quickly and carry his bride with him back to his assignment in Shanghai during the 1920s.

Kitty quickly became bored of a reclusive life with an introverted physician among the British upper class in China, until she met and began an elicit affair with Walter's friend Charilie Townsend, a handsome, married British diplomat responsible for governing the region. Inexperienced Kitty thought herself in love and believed Charlie was too, until Walter discovered their affair and threatened her with divorce. When Kitty asked Charlie to divorce his own wife and marry her, she quickly discovered that his affections were limited to the time they spent in bed together.

In order to escape the public disgrace of his wife's conduct and to punish her for her betrayal, Walter accepted a dangerous assignment as medical officer in a rural Chinese village stricken by cholera. Dragging Kitty along with him, he transported her to a land far from the modern world with even less outlet for her restlessness and her need for trivial amusement. Walter plunged himself into the midst of an unfolding medical tragedy, risking his life every day to nurse dying patients and discover means to stop the spread of the disease. In doing so he won the admiration of the local population, but became more and more estranged from his own wife.

Finally Kitty could bear the pain of isolation and boredom no more. She set forth into the disease-ridden town and offered her services at a local Catholic convent run by English missionaries. Encountering disease, danger and death for the first time in her life, she felt the total inadequacy and meaninglessness of her own existence. At the same time, she began to see her husband in a different light, as a man of strength, courage and innate goodness. Goodness was not a quality she had ever prized in a man before, but here in the face of life's most extreme challenges, she came to deeply admire and respect her husband and yearn for reconciliation with him. Fane noticed the change in her and admired her courage in venturing out among the sick.

Gradually the barriers of indifference, resentment, and distrust dissolved and they discovered a depth of mutual admiration and affection neither had believed possible for them. In spite of the horrible circumstances, they enjoyed a few moments of intense delight together. Then as the epidemic spread, Fane came down with cholera and eventually died in his wife's loving arms.

Kitty returned to London where she gave birth to a son. A few years later, walking in the city she encounters Charlie Townsend. For a moment Charlie's hopes are kindled of another romantic encounter, before he realizes his hope is futile. Kitty is no longer the silly, meaningless spoiled girl he had known in Shanghai. She has experienced life, discovered true goodness and felt what it is to truly love.

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