Well, it was a good idea. The Painted Veil was an interesting story, and I thought it would make a better movie. Wrong. The movie was well acted and nicely filmed (in China, mostly), but it was a downer. It is one thing to read about a cholera epidemic on the printed page; it is quite another thing to watch one realistically portrayed on the screen. Somehow the story didn't seem as grim when one read the Somerset Maugham novella, but it's ultimately a sad story, despite the efforts of the heroic French nuns who, like most of the people in the area, are dropping like flies. (The Mother Superior is played by Diana Rigg.) The story is a tale of a bad marriage rescued against a backdrop of human devastation. Not a bad premise, but if the screenwriter was aiming at redemption, he missed.
Naomi Watts is an excellent Kitty, and Edward Norton is a passable but passionless Walter. The supporting cast is good, and the cinematography, shot in shades of blue, grey, and brown, is appropriately depressing. The Maugham ending, which I thought clumsy, was abandoned in the movie, which made do with a short scene in England, five years after Kitty leaves China. That was a significant improvement.
But it was definitely not a feel-good movie, and if you favor this type of entertainment, avoid this one.