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Film / The Painted Veil

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The Painted Veil is a 2006 drama based on the novel of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham and stars Edward Norton and Naomi Watts.

Kitty Garstin is a shallow socialite who decides to marry boring bacteriologist Walter Fane when she finds that she's out of suitors and her mother pushes her to make the match. Walter's work takes him to Shanghai, and there Kitty settles into married life and embarks on an affair with Charles Townsend, the married British vice consul. Walter discovers the affair and offers Kitty two options: divorce on the grounds of adultery, or she can go with him to a small village out in the country where a cholera epidemic is in full swing. Realising Charlie won't leave his wife for her, Kitty accompanies Walter to the village.



  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Kitty is much more attracted to shameless flirt and womanizer Charlie than her devoted husband.
  • Altar the Speed: Walter wants to marry before he returns to Shanghai, even though he and Kitty barely know each other.
  • Batman Gambit: Walter is determined to punish his wife. After he finds out about her affair, he sets up a situation where her only choices are to follow him into a cholera epidemic or public scandal. He predicts her every move, and Charlie's, perfectly.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Kitty stumbles upon Walter who has fallen asleep at his desk. This marks the point in the movie where she does start to feel affection towards him. The scene isn't in the original novel, however, and there's generally less of an indication that she has any feelings for him in the novel.
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  • Becoming the Mask: Kitty starts out following Walter to Mei-Tan-Fu to play the devoted wife who can't bear to leave her husband even in the face of nearly certain death. By the end, it's true.
  • The Casanova: Charlie is implied to have had a number of affairs, Kitty merely being his latest conquest.
  • Character Development: In spades- Kitty gets to see Walter at work, and sees how respected and liked he is. In turn, Walter sees Kitty volunteering at the orphanage and sees that she isn't as shallow as he first thought.
  • Cool Old Lady: The Mother Superior, along with being extremely snarky and helpful with advice to Kitty. Being played by Diana Rigg does this to you.
  • Death Seeker: Walter. Kitty follows suit when she realizes her husband doesn't intend for either of them to live.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Played realistically. Walter has fallen in love with Kitty almost immediately. Kitty barely knows his name. The marriage is a disaster.
  • Friend to All Children: Walter is fond of babies, which makes him more sympathetic in Kitty's eyes and causes her to realize that maybe she has misunderstood him.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: Part of Kitty's punishment is she must go along with Walter publicly taunting her by pretending to be a happy, loving couple.
  • Her Heart Will Go On: Kitty, after Walter's death.
  • Hidden Depths: The central story of the film is Walter and Kitty each discovering the other is much more than they initially thought.
  • Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone: At least as well as can be accomplished with a nun and a couple dozen little girls watching. But when the Mother Superior recommends Kitty play something "a little more soothing" she takes the hint and plays something to seduce Walter instead. Her choice of the song that was playing when they met effectively leaves them "alone."
  • Love Martyr: Walter married Kitty knowing how selfish she was, but he still loved her and thought she would change.
  • Loving a Shadow: Walter loves Kitty at first sight, though he comes to realize he has no idea who she actually is after her affair. She calls him out on this and he eventually agrees with her.
    • Kitty loves Charlie, but when it comes right down to it, he doesn't actually love her back.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Seen with the Fanes' neighbour Waddington and his Manchurian lover Wan Xi.
  • Nuns 'n' Rosaries: The French order running the orphanage in the village.
  • Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Returning to the village by boat turns into this.
  • Old Maid: Kitty's fear that this and years more of living with her mother will be her fate drive her to marry Walter.
  • Parasol of Prettiness: Being an upper-class girl, Kitty protects herself from the sun.
  • The Plague: Walter goes to Mei-Tan-Fu to try and stop a Cholera epidemic from spreading. In the end, he is killed by the disease.
  • Adaptational Romance: Kitty never falls for Walter in the novel. She comes to see his worth and regrets her actions but cannot bring herself to love him as a man.
  • Romancing the Widow: Charlie tries this years later in London. Kitty shoots him down.
  • Scenery Porn: The scenes in rural China
  • Sexless Marriage: When Walter discovers Kitty's adultery and takes her to Mei-Tan-Fu. They eventually make up, resulting in a Sexy Discretion Shot
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Kitty regards her son as Walter's child and tells him about his father.
  • Tactful Translation: The Funny Moment in an otherwise mostly serious movie comes when Walter, with his government-assigned translator Col. Yu, goes to a local warlord to request his cooperation in fighting the epidemic. When the warlord responds with an angry tirade, Walter tacitly invokes this trope to let Col. Yu take over negotiations. The Colonel proceeds to "translate" an insult into a tactfully-worded threat that gets the result they need:
    Colonel Yu: [deadpan] He said no.
    Walter Fane: He doesn't speak any English, does he? Tell him that's the most ridiculous suit that I've ever seen.
    Colonel Yu: [in Chinese] This Doctor respects you greatly, and you are right. It is quite a mess, this epidemic. But my superior said if your men cannot control it, then our army will be happy to come out here and help you. After seeing this place, it's so overwhelming, I'm afraid once our soldiers are here they won't want to leave.
  • The Unfair Sex: Averted. The film is pretty much on Walter's side and makes Kitty earn her forgiveness. Granted, he is depicted as a bit overboard with his punishment.
  • Unwanted Spouse: Walter is this when he marries Kitty, but then Kitty assumes the role when her adultery is uncovered.
  • Uptight Loves Wild: There's definitely an element of this in Walter's attraction to Kitty.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: Kitty is unsure of whether her unborn child is Walter's or Charlie's, but Walter agrees to raise the child as his own, and ultimately Kitty treats the child as his.
    • In the book It was definitely Charlie's.
  • Your Cheating Heart

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