The Painted Veil


Indie director John Curran (We Don’t Live Here Anymore) seems an odd choice to pick up Merchant Ivory’s mantle, but he has the heritage duo’s brand of period sweep and middlebrow tastefulness down pat in this Far East epic (adapted from a Somerset Maugham novel). In other words, it’s smart, classy and reeks of dosh, but the emotions simmer rather than boil. Hard to blame the actors, mind: once you’ve penetrated the stuffy accents, Naomi Watts and Ed Norton engross as an unhappily married couple (he’s a dull-but-decent bacteriologist; she’s an adulterous socialite) who swap Blighty for a cholera-blighted corner of ’20s China. Co-producers as well as leads, it’s a shame the stars didn’t bring their brittle chemistry to the commentary booth (all we get’s a measly Making Of). Still, it’s thanks to them – rather than the postcard-pretty distance of Curran’s direction – that this emerges as a touching tale of love at second sight.


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