The story of “The Painted Veil” has been resurrected after the novel was written over 90 years ago by W. Somerset Maugham in 1925. The master story teller has a tale that transfers easily to film and has the ability to captivate its audience with its intriguing account of a dysfunctional marriage which righted itself in time for its unanticipated ending. The main cast members, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, were also the producers of this film. “The Painted Veil” won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score in a Motion Picture.
Naomi Watts - Wikimedia
A young socialite, Kitty Garstin (Naomi Watts) is the main focus of this story. In 1925, Kitty, at 25 years of age, had not yet married although she had numerous proposals, none of which suited her. Her mother’s stinging remark “How much longer do you expect your father to go on supporting you?” hurt her, especially since her younger sister was planning to marry shortly. At a gala in London, Kitty met Walter Fane (Edward Norton) who was highly interested in courting Kitty. Kitty’s father invited him to their home, and Walter was encouraged to propose to the haughty Kitty, who was shocked by the brief time they had known each other. Yet, she agreed to marry Walter, who was a bacteriologist with a knowledge and interest in infectious diseases. Walter was somewhat aware that Kitty was not in love with him, and perhaps she wanted mostly to get away from her mother’s domineering ways.
The Couple Moves to Shanghai
Walter had worked in Shanghai and was anxious to get back there to continue his career. Although Kitty was unenthusiastic about the prospect, she went with her husband, leaving behind the socialite background which suited her more. In Shanghai, Walter and Kitty were invited for a social evening at the home of the Vice Consul, Charles Townsend (Liev Schreiber) and his wife. Very soon, Kitty, bored with her husband’s concentration on his work, began an affair with Townsend. Walter became aware of the situation when he walked in on them one afternoon.
Hypodermic Syringe - Wikimedia
A Cholera Breakout
An area in China called Mei-tan-fu had a cholera breakout, and Walter volunteered to go there to take charge of the Lab which was involved in stemming the spread of the disease. He expected Kitty to accompany him, which she was reluctant to do. Walter told her he would file for divorce, naming Charles Townsend as her lover, if she refused to go to Shanghai with him. Kitty spoke to Charles and told him that Walter would agree to a divorce only if Charles divorced his wife and agreed to marry Kitty. Charles would not agree to a divorce, citing the importance of his position as Vice Consul. Kitty was shocked at Charles’ attitude which she had not expected, and unhappily agreed to accompany Walter to Mei-tan-fu. Walter had already packed her bags since he was certain that Charles would not agree to divorce his wife.
At Home in Mei-tan-fu
Shanghai at this time was under British colonial rule. Demonstrations were frequent and people’s lives were often in danger. Walter and Kitty traveled overland for two weeks to arrive in Mei-tan-fu. When they reached their home, they were greeted by the Deputy Commissioner, named Waddington (Toby Jones), who invited himself to dinner. He provided Kitty with a guard who would stand outside their home while Walter was away at work. Waddington encouraged them to be inoculated against the disease. Walter turned down the offer, and therefore Kitty did also.
Ed Norton - Wikimedia Credit: Shankbone
Waddington’s Inside Information
Kitty had very little to do at home as they had a housekeeper. Walter was involved in testing the town’s drinking water to ensure that the residents did not acquire the cholera bacteria from the water. Kitty wrote a letter to Charlie and went to Waddington to learn when the postal service would come through. It would not arrive until Friday. Waddington noticed that her letter was addressed to Charles Townsend. Kitty said they were friends with the Townsends. Waddington offered the information that Charles had a reputation for flirtation, and that his wife made the remark that all the women who fell for Charles were always second-rate. Kitty was devastated at the remark and said that Friday was too late; she would not send the letter.
Walter Works at the Orphanage
Walter and Kitty spent their evenings mostly in silence after having their dinner. Some of his work entailed visiting the local convent and orphanage run by the nuns. He told Kitty that the Mother Superior was impressed that Kitty had accompanied her husband and would like to meet her. Waddington agreed to take Kitty by boat to the orphanage. On the way, he remarked to Kitty that he was astonished that Kitty had come there. It was no place for a woman. He also said that he noticed that Walter never looked at Kitty. She answered that Walter had a lot on his mind.
Liev Schreiber - Wikimedia
Kitty Volunteers at the Orphanage
The Mother Superior (Diana Riggs) greeted Kitty. She showed her around the orphanage, and mentioned that Sister Dominique, their pianist, had died the previous week. Kitty asked if she could come to the orphanage to help; she would do any kind of work they had. Sister told Kitty that Walter loved the babies; he spent a great deal of time in the nursery with them. This was a side of Walter that she was not aware of.
That evening, Kitty brought Walter his dinner as he had fallen asleep at his desk. She told him that the nuns had spoken highly of him.
Walter was obliged to shut off the town’s water supply because of the cholera bacteria. His plan was to divert the water from the upper regions and send it down to the town. He demanded that the people should dispose of the corpses immediately. They were burying them too close to the river.
Walter and Kitty’s Interest in Each Other is Ignited
Mother Superior and Walter both observed Kitty playing the piano for the children and were impressed at the students’ attention. Walter and Kitty began speaking to one another again. They agreed that they had different interests and had sought qualities in each other that neither one had.
Kitty was being escorted home one day from the orphanage when a gang of young bullies started harassing her. Her guard shot his gun in the air and the gangsters dispersed. Once home, Walter was so glad to see her. He came into her room. Their married life restarted.
Toby Jones - Wikimedia
Kitty Learns that she is Pregnant
At the orphanage one day, Kitty fainted, and the sisters told her that she was pregnant. She did not know it. At that point, she was two months pregnant. Much happened after this point which will not be revealed her. To know the ending, you will have to view this film. It is a beautiful story, both tragic and romantic. You must see it to the end.
Maugham’s Novel Had a Different Ending
W. Somerset Maugham had a different ending to the story than the film chose to propose. I plan to read his novel, as his plot twists are excellent. He lived 100 years ago, and his insights into the human mind are as relevant today as they were then.