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Posts Tagged ‘Somerset Maugham’

I have wanted to watch the film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel ‘The Painted Veil‘ ever since it came out. (My review of the novel is here.) Somerset Maugham is one of my favourite writers and I am a huge fan of his books. I have never seen a film adaptation of any of his books. I was surprised that someone decided to make a film adaptation of ‘The Painted Veil‘, because Maugham has long been out of favour among readers and critics and only some of us, old fans, continue to read him. Fortunately for me, Naomi Watts and Edward Norton and their fellow producers did not think so and we have this beautiful film adaptation as a result.

The story told in the movie goes like this. Kitty is a young woman in London who attends parties. Her parents are worried that she is not getting married and settling down. When a young doctor, Walter, who is on holiday from Shanghai, meets her at one of these parties, he falls in love with her and proposes to her. Kitty is hesitant, but when she remembers that her parents want her out of the way, she accepts Walter’s proposal. They get married and Walter takes Kitty with him to Shanghai. Kitty is initially bored with her life there. Walter is not really a fun person – he is a nerdy scientist. But once Walter takes her to a Chinese opera and Kitty meets Charles, the Vice Consul there. Kitty finds him charming and before long they are having an affair. At some point, Walter discovers their affair. He decides to do something unconventional, something painful. He decides to take up a posting in interior China, where there is a cholera outbreak. When Kitty refuses to accompany him, he says that he will file for divorce and name Charles as her lover in the divorce application. After some heated conversation and discussion, Walter agrees to this – if Charles agrees to divorce his wife and marry Kitty, then Walter and Kitty can divorce amicably and go their own ways. Otherwise, Walter will go ahead with his plan of going to interior China and he hopes that Kitty will accompany him. Kitty is under the impression that this will work, because Charles loves her. But Charles turns out to be weak and a fake and doesn’t agree to this proposal. Now Kitty is caught between the devil and the deep sea – Charles has abandoned her and Walter is punishing her. She opts for the punishment, eventhough it makes her very unhappy, and goes with Walter to the place deep inside China.

What happens to Kitty when she reaches the small town in interior China? Can a city girl like her survive there? What happens to her relationship with Walter? And what happens in that small town because of the epidemic? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

I loved the film adaptation of ‘The Painted Veil‘. Naomi Watts is brilliant as Kitty – I think there couldn’t have been a better person to play that role in all its complexity. Watts dazzles in every scene throughout the movie. I was a little worried about Edward Norton playing the role of Walter, but he does it wonderfully. Liev Schreiber is the handsome Charles, Kitty’s lover. I was also very excited to see Diana Rigg – who played one of the finest Bond heroines in the film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service‘, and who in recent times is famous for playing the cool and stylish Lady Olenna Tyrell in ‘Game of Thrones‘ – as Mother Superior who runs an orphanage with French nuns. She is wonderful. Toby Jones as Waddington and Anthony Wong as Colonel Yu are wonderful too.

How does the film compare to the book? It is hard for me to say. One of my friends used to say this about book-to-film adaptations – that if a film manages to translate the soul of the book onto the screen, it has done well. I think this film has done that – translated the soul of the book perfectly to the screen. The film takes some liberties with respect to the story told in the book. The book is darker in some ways, and the film tries to make some of that nicer. I am not a purist and so I liked that. There are some things that a film can’t do. For example, one of my favourite passages in the book goes like this –

“But the river, though it flowed so slowly, had still a sense of movement and it gave one a melancholy feeling of the transitoriness of things. Everything passed, and what trace of its passage remained? It seemed to Kitty that they were all, the human race, like the drops of water in the river and they flowed on, each so close to the other and yet so far apart, a nameless flood, to the sea. When all things lasted so short a time and nothing mattered very much, it seemed pitiful that men, attaching an absurd importance to trivial objects, should make themselves and one another so unhappy.”

Maugham writes this passage at the beginning of a chapter, halfway through the book. How can this be put in the movie? The scriptwriter can make one of the characters speak this. Or there can be a voice over which speaks this. But that is really force-fitting things. The author has the freedom and flexibility to include passages like this in the book. Sometimes the author can go on writing stuff like this for a few pages. The filmmaker doesn’t have this kind of freedom and flexibility. So, I think, if we appreciate this difference, it is possible to enjoy the story told through these two beautiful artistic mediums. I enjoyed both versions immensely.

One of the things I loved in the movie is that one of my favourite classical music pieces, Erik Satie’s Gnossienne 1 is played at the beginning of the movie, and it is a constant refrain throughout the movie. I have never heard Erik Satie’s music played in a movie before and I was so thrilled. This particular piece is so beautiful and haunting. It touches your heartstrings from the first note and refuses to let go till the end. It is so beautiful that it makes your heart ache. If you would like to listen to it, you can find it here.

One more thing I loved about the movie was the location where it was filmed. Most of the movie where the story takes place in interior China, was filmed in Guangxi province in China. Guangxi is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places in China, and so each scene is a pleasure to watch.

Well, that’s it from here 🙂 I loved the film adaptation of ‘The Painted Veil‘. I hope to watch it again.

Have you seen ‘The Painted Veil‘ or read the original book? What do you think about it?

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