It has been a while since I have been moved enough by a movie to want to write about it. This movie certainly did it for me, in spades. Interestingly, this is the second time I've seen it. When I saw it was playing on HBO, I remembered that it was very good and gave it a second look.
This is a truly adult movie, with some real culture and restraint, the kind of thing you would more likely see on PBS than coming from Hollywood. Based upon the novel by Somerset Maugham, it takes place in the 20s, and is set in real historical time. The main characters are British, and they are coming from that time when restraint of the emotions was the order of the day. This makes for some wonderful opportunities for these great actors to show their chops, and they do not disappoint.
The leads are played splendidly by Ed Norton and Naomi Watts. Diane Riggs is also notable as a Mother Superior. Ed plays a doctor and Naomi his spoiled wife. The action starts out in England but moves to China where the Norton character goes to first live in Hong Kong then later gets called to combat a cholera epidemic in the interior.
I found this film gripping from first frame to last. Everything about it was well done. Beautiful cinematography, great script, great direction, etc.
The movie displays how life can mature us and teach us and open us to a greater vision. All the major characters go through real transformations under very difficult conditions.
There was so much that was memorable for me about this film. To just pick out one thing, Diane Rigg beautifully plays a Nun running a poor orphanage in China who has devoted her life to service to God. In talking to the Naomi Watts character who starts out vain and self centered, The Mother Superior describes how she too fell in love when she was seventeen; She fell in love with God.
Then she goes on to describe how her relationship with God has changed over the decades. Anyone who has been involved in the spiritual life for decades will appreciate that speech.
There is so much to recommend in this film. If you want to watch a great adult entertainment, this one has my highest recommendation.