Kitty (Naomi Watts), an aging socialite from the British upper class community hooks up with a Doctor Fane (Ed Norton) who is in a rush to marry, and they head to Shanghai, China. She marries him to get away from her unbearable mother more than for true love.
In Shanghai, the marriage becomes boring as they discover that they have little in common. She is caught having an affair with another Brit, Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber), the English Vice Consul, and is then faced with the prospect of either following her husband to a rural Chinese town ravaged by cholera or having him divorce her. The Vice Consul decides not to leave his wife. Crushed, Kitty follows her husband to the town where they both face danger. You wonder if Dr. Fane is hoping she catches cholera and dies as punishment for the affair. He all but ignores her, buried in his work to keep the cholera at bay, while she struggles to find meaningful ways to spend her time.
This film reminded me a bit of The English Patient (check out Ed Norton's hairstyle – blink and you'll swear he's Ralph Fiennes) and also The Sheltering Sky, about a doomed desert expedition. Ed Norton was also one of film's producers, but truthfully, he wasn't great in the role. His performance wasn't as deep as it should have been and his character was very likable.
Naomi Watts, co-producer, was well-cast as an aging socialite (38 years), but the rekindled romance between the two didn't gain much traction with me. Look for former "Bond girl" Diana Rigg as the Mother Superior, a role she was very good in. Apparently the film has been a project of Norton's for between six years and a decade. Director John Curran probably did the best with what he had, but unfortunately, Ed Norton should have stayed on the other side of the camera and opted for a different leading man.
This is the third film version of the 1925 Somerset Maugham novel.