The Painted Veil

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
The Painted Veil Movie Poster Image
Well-acted period drama is lush and haunting.
  • PG-13
  • 2006
  • 125 minutes

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 5 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

A spoiled young woman commits adultery, then redeems herself by caring for victims of disease, including her husband.


Cholera wreaks havoc on victims -- some effects revealed in brief, graphic images; a group of men chases Kitty and she falls, runs, and is finally trapped by the group; her bodyguard fires his gun; some fighting when infected refugees attempt to enter the village; flyers call for "death to foreign invaders."


Adulterous affair shown in tense, passionate, short scenes (passionate embracing under covers, covert flirtations); heavy drinking leads to Kitty and Walter's sexual encounter one night in China (his bare bottom is visible as he gets out of bed in the morning); Waddington has a young lover.


Very mild: one use of "damn," and several uses of "god."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking (on occasion to drunkenness); cigarette smoking; Kitty and Walter have "crippling" hangovers after a night of drinking; Waddington and his girlfriend smoke something narcotic.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this drama based on a 1925 novel isn't for most kids, despite its PG-13 rating. It's a serious, often painful contemplation of marriage under duress, featuring angry arguments as well as images of suffering cholera patients. Sexual intimacy includes one early, awkward scene in which a young bride invites her husband to her bed (he's embarrassed) and a couple of adulterous situations (a couple in bed, hiding from the jilted husband), as well as a couple of drunken scenes (in one, a white British man admires his much younger Chinese girlfriend; in another, a married couple has sex, with brief shots of naked bottoms and thighs). Characters drink, and couple of supporting players smoke cigarettes.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byVikki T. October 31, 2016

Really good movie! A must see Romantic, Edward Norton makes u fall in love over and over again!

Great love story! Not for young kids but older mature ones. A must see.
Teen, 17 years old Written byaithy June 3, 2019

Intense and Emotional

Wow! I loved this movie so so much. This movie is definitely somewhat depressing and the conflicting environment doesn't help, but I would say it was so be... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byEmilyB123 August 6, 2010

What's the story?

Based on a 1925 W. Somerset Maugham novel, THE PAINTED VEIL tracks the troubled marriage of Kitty (Naomi Watts) and Walter (Edward Norton). For Kitty, Walter is a means to escape her family's depressing expectations -- her mother (Maggie Steed) dotes on Kitty's sister while fully expecting the spoiled Kitty to dwindle into deserved spinsterhood. And so, when Walter, a bacteriologist, awkwardly proposes, Kitty says yes. The decision takes her about as far away from her mother, to Shanghai. Here she learns that Walter is a dedicated researcher and poor companion. To escape her disappointing situation, Kitty has an affair with British vice consul Charles Townsend (Liev Schreiber), which only makes her lonelier. When Walter discovers the affair, his revenge is insidious: He forces her to accompany him to a cholera-besieged village. Like Kitty, Walter is a selfish, angry individual who sees himself reflected in every aspect of his world. Projecting onto Kitty his own needs and desires, he goes on to do the same with his work.

Is it any good?

The Painted Veil is the sort of movie-star vehicle that usually provides for outsized, capital "A" Acting. But John Curran's version is both lush and intimate, a showcase for subtle performances in which China becomes an "exotic" backdrop for white folks' troubles. While the Chinese characters remain mostly anonymous, either children or suffering disease victims, Kitty and Walter's exclusive self-absorption and lessons in generosity are tied to colonialist culture; they must unlearn their sense of entitlement and privilege.

While the movie alludes to historical events, Kitty and Walter's lessons tend to be on a more intimate scale. She meets Deputy Commissioner Waddington (Toby Jones), who embraces the locals in the usual ways: When Kitty asks what his much younger Manchu lover (Yu Lin) sees in him, he translates the girl's answer: "She says I'm a good man." As Kitty sees no good in men, the observation surprises her, but she begins to see that kindness can be learned.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Walter and Kitty end up appreciating each other's strengths and forgiving each other's failings. How do their circumstances -- surrounded by acute suffering -- encourage them to see past themselves and, as a result, see themselves more clearly? What are the movie's themes? Which characters are redeemed, and how? How does it stress the importance of communication (and show the consequences of a lack of communication)? What's lacking in Kitty and Walter's marriage? What makes a marriage good or bad?

Movie details

  • In theaters: December 29, 2006
  • On DVD or streaming: May 8, 2007
  • Cast: Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Toby Jones
  • Director: John Curran
  • Studio: Warner Independent
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run time: 125 minutes
  • MPAA rating: PG-13
  • MPAA explanation: some mature sexual situations, partial nudity, disturbing images and brief drug content.
  • Last updated: November 11, 2020

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