Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Painted Veil (2006)

I recently read Maugham's novel The Painted Veil and loved it. And, I've long been a fan of the 1934 Garbo/Herbert Marshall motion picture version, even though I don't care much for Garbo. I thought it was the best of her movies that I've seen. I was reluctant to watch the remake but after reading so many positive reviews I decided to give it a try. 

Sure, there are some good things about it -- the scenery, some of the humor, and the believability of the growth and reconciliation of the characters.  But so much of the beauty of the book was lost by the graphic bedroom scenes, drug use, and twisted view of Catholicism -- none of which were in Maugham's novel.

In the book, the Mother Superior was from an aristocratic background and conducted herself accordingly. Not so in this motion picture. And the lines about her being indifferent to her divine Spouse were pure invention. As for the idea that the religious sisters were buying little Chinese girls to make Catholics of them and then exploiting them to earn money for the convent, that is absolute nonsense. The little girls were unwanted because of the low value of girls in China. The sisters took them in and taught them skills they could use to have productive lives.

Also, the political situation was far more prominent in the movie and that seemed a pretty obvious effort just to spice things up, as were the drugs and graphic sex. Although I'm hardly a fan of Chinese warlords, I thought the portrayal of the one in this picture was just plain silly -- a buffoon wearing a bright blue uniform with gold tassels that looked like it came from a party store. The director should have done a little research. Google around and you'll see what Chinese warlords were really like.

In short, if you want an uplifting experience, read the book and see the Garbo version. Forget this one. You can see pretty pictures of China elsewhere and you can see these actors in vehicles more worthy of their talent.

Image:  Original poster for movie.  From Wikimedia Commons. Fair use claimed (Wikipedia fair use rationale at link adopted by reference here.)

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