The English Patient (film)

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The English Patient
The English Patient Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Anthony Minghella
Produced by Saul Zaentz
Screenplay by Anthony Minghella
Based on The English Patient 
by Michael Ondaatje
Starring Ralph Fiennes
Juliette Binoche
Willem Dafoe
Kristin Scott Thomas
Music by Gabriel Yared
Cinematography John Seale
Edited by Walter Murch
Miramax Films
Tiger Moth Productions
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release dates
  • November 15, 1996 (1996-11-15)
Running time 162 minutes[1]
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $27 million[2]
Box office $231,976,425[2]

The English Patient (1996) is a romantic drama directed by Anthony Minghella from his own script based on the novel of the same name by Michael Ondaatje and produced by Saul Zaentz.

The film's invocation of fate, romance, and tragedy unfolds in World War II Italy through the story of a burn victim, a once-dashing archaeologist whose sacrifices to save the woman he loves spell his end.


In the final days of the Italian Campaign of World War II, Hana, a French-Canadian nurse working and living in a bombed Italian monastery, looks after a critically burned man who speaks English but refuses to reveal even his name.

David Caravaggio, a Canadian Intelligence Corps operative ostensibly trying to disarm the partisans, arrives with bandaged hands and an acute interest in both the morphine supply at the monastery and the English patient's past.

Hana starts a romance with Kip, a Sikh sapper in the British Army who defuses bombs. She worries about the "curse" she believes she casts on those close to her.

In the late 1930s, the Hungarian cartographer Count László de Almásy maps the Sahara as a co-leader of a Royal Geographical Society archeological and surveying expedition in Egypt and Libya with the Englishman Peter Madox. They are academics at heart and naïve about the brewing war. Their expedition is financed by a British couple, Geoffrey and Katherine Clifton. Geoffrey is often away mapping; Katherine and Almásy fall in love. Their intense romance founders on her guilt and his jealousy.

The Count studies an ancient Saharan site, the Cave of Swimmers, until a British order stops work in the camp at the onset of fighting. Madox secretes his Tiger Moth at Kufra oasis before the two go their separate ways.

Caravaggio was a professional thief; he lost his thumbs in an interrogation by a German Army officer and has avenged himself on two of the men he holds responsible. Only Almásy remains; he accuses the English patient of being the Count and betraying the British. The burn victim insists he has it backwards: he was betrayed by the British.

When Geoffrey discovers the affair, he lures Katherine aboard their plane and pilots it into the camp in a crash aimed at the Count. He is killed instantly, she is seriously injured, but Almásy narrowly hit. He takes her to the cave, leaving her with provisions, and begins a three-day walk in scorching heat looking for help. Dazed and dehydrated, he stumbles into British-held El Tag and desperately attempts to explain his non-British name and Katherine's plight. Under questioning, he loses his temper, is detained and transported in chains on a train north to Benghazi. He escapes behind German lines and trades the British maps to them for gasoline. He flies the Tiger Moth to the cave, but is too late.

He attempts to return with Katherine but a German anti-aircraft battery shoots them down. Her body is not recovered; he is horribly burned and rescued by Bedouin.

"I had the wrong name," the English patient explains. Caravaggio is ready to forgive. On the last day of the war, Hana's fears are put to rest when Kip disarms a frightening live explosive. She cannot refuse Almásy's wish for a fatal dose of morphine. Kip's new post is north of Florence; she catches a ride that way.


The physical appearance of Almásy is commonly linked to the fictional character Indiana Jones: tanned skin, khaki attire and similar hat. Male archaeologists portrayed in film seem to fit one or more of these stereotypical traits.[citation needed]

During the development of the project with 20th Century Fox, according to Minghella, the "studio wanted the insurance policy of so-called bigger" actors.[3] Zaentz recalled, "they’d look at you and say, ‘Could we cast Demi Moore in the role?"[4] Not until Miramax Films took over was the director's preference for Scott Thomas accepted.[3]

Archeology theme[edit]

The study of a prehistoric Saharan cave with "swimming figures" (Cave of Swimmers") was made by Hungarian László Almásy (October 1933) during the Leo Frobenius expedition. The location was discovered due to the aid of an airplane owned by an expedition member. This site is portrayed in both Ondaatje's novel and Minghella's film.[5]

Some archaeology was conducted in the late 1930s and early 1940s in Egypt that led to the significant Tanis find with intrinsic, artistic and cultural value similar to others. The find was overshadowed by World War II so is not as well known as that of Tutankhamen.[6] The effects of World War II meant a cutback in archeological expeditions. WWII aerial photography was used to evaluate the study potential of sites, particularly the large ones.[7]


Triumph 3HW 350cc motorcycle specified in the novel as Kip's choice of transport and used in the film

Saul Zaentz made known his wish to work with Anthony Minghella after he saw the director's film Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990); Minghella brought this project to the producer's attention. Michael Ondaatje, the Sri Lankan-born Canadian author of the novel, worked closely with the filmmakers.[8]

The film was shot on location in Tunisia and Italy.[9] with a production budget of $31 million.[10]

Two types of plane are used in the film.[11] The De Havilland D.H.82 Tiger Moth appears first when the Count tries to return Katherine's body to England for interment in the garden of her seacoast home, a wish she expressed in his Herodotus history book when she was incapacitated and secreted in the Cave. The plane had been hidden at the Oasis by Peter Maddox, to whom it belonged, following the British government ordering expeditions to stop by May 1939. Madox and Almasy planned to leave camp. The Cliftons arrived at the camp aboard a Boeing-Stearman Model 75, purportedly their own but it was British Government property.

Both are biplanes; an aircraft with two main supporting surfaces (wings) usually placed one above the other.[12] They both use aviation fuel, a type of special, high-leaded gasoline.[13] The on-screen registration numbers on each plane were fictitious. The camp crash scene was made with a .5 scale model. Both were commonly used in pilot training; after being decommissioned, these smaller models were later used extensively as crop dusters in the postwar years.[11]

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film (2002)[14] by Michael Ondaatje is based on the conversations between the author and film editor. Murch, with a career that already included complex works like the Godfather trilogy, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now, dreaded the task of editing the film with multiple flashbacks and time frames. Once he began, the possibilities became apparent, some of which took him away from the order of the original script. A reel without sound was made so scene change visuals would be consistent with the quality of the aural aspect between the two. The final cut features over 40 temporal transitions. It was during this time that Murch met Ondaatje and they were able to exchange thoughts about editing the film.[15]


The film received widespread critical acclaim, was a box office success and a major award winner: victorious in 9 out of 12 nominated Academy Awards categories; 2 out of 7 nominated Golden Globe Awards categories; and 6 out of 13 nominated BAFTA Award categories.

The film has a "Certified Fresh" rating of 84% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 61 reviews, concluding. "Though it suffers from excessive length and ambition, director Minghella's adaptation of the Michael Ondaatje novel is complex, powerful, and moving."[16] The film also has a rating of 87% on Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim".[17] Chicago Sun Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film a 4/4 rating, saying "it's the kind of movie you can see twice – first for the questions, the second time for the answers."[18] In his movie guide, Leonard Maltin rated the film 3 1/2 out of 4, calling it "A mesmerizing adaptation" of Ondaatje's novel, he concluded by calling the film "An exceptional achievement all around".


Organization/Association Award Actor/Crew Outcome Remarks
69th Academy Awards[19][20] Best Picture Saul Zaentz Won
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Juliette Binoche Won In her acceptance speech, Binoche said she had expected Lauren Bacall to win for The Mirror Has Two Faces, which would have been her first Oscar.
Best Art Direction Stuart Craig and Stephanie McMillan Won
Best Cinematography John Seale Won
Best Costume Design Ann Roth Won
Best Director Anthony Minghella Won
Best Film Editing Walter Murch Won
Best Original Score Gabriel Yared Won See The English Patient (soundtrack). Andrew Lloyd Webber joked, "Thank goodness there wasn't a song in The English Patient." since it had such a strong presence.
Best Sound Walter Murch, Mark Berger, David Parker, and Christopher Newman Won
Best Actor in a Leading Role Ralph Fiennes Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Kristin Scott Thomas Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Anthony Minghella Nominated
54th Golden Globe Awards[19][20] Best Motion Picture – Drama Saul Zaentz Won
Best Original Score Gabriel Yared Won
Best Director Anthony Minghella Nominated
Best Actor – Motion Picture Ralph Fiennes Nominated
Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama Kristin Scott Thomas Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Juliette Binoche Nominated
Best Screenplay Anthony Minghella Nominated
50th British Academy Film Awards Best Film Saul Zaentz Won
Best Cinematography John Seale Won
Best Editing Walter Murch Won
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role Juliette Binoche Won
Best Screenplay – Adapted Anthony Minghella Won
Best Music Gabriel Yared Won
Best Direction Anthony Minghella Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Ralph Fiennes Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Kristin Scott Thomas Nominated
Best Costume Design Ann Roth Nominated
Best Production Design Stuart Craig Nominated
Best Sound Nominated
Best Makeup/Hair Nigel Booth Nominated
47th Berlin International Film Festival (1997)[21] Silver Bear for Best Actress Juliette Binoche Won
Golden Bear Anthony Minghella Nominated
AFI 100 Years… series of Cinematic Milestones/;BFI Top 100 British films[22]
Year Category Distinction Date Checked Remarks
1998 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominated
2002 AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions #56
2005 AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominated
2007 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)[23] Nominated .
1999 BFI Top 100 British films #55 1-28-2014


  1. ^ "THE ENGLISH PATIENT (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 1996-12-04. Retrieved 2013-03-04. 
  2. ^ a b The English Patient at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ a b; viewed 8-1-2014
  4. ^; viewed 8-2-2014.
  5. ^ viewed 1-24-2014
  6. ^
  7. ^; viewed 1-24-2014
  8. ^ Michael Ondaatje, "Remembering my friend Anthony Minghella," The Guardian, 23 March 2008.
  9. ^ "Film locations for The English Patient". Retrieved August 23, 2010. 
  10. ^; viewed 1/24-2014.
  11. ^ a b; viewed 1-24-2014.
  12. ^ [1]; viewed 1-24-2014.
  13. ^;; both viewed, 1-24-2014.
  14. ^ Random House Inc.
  15. ^ [2]; viewed 1-24-2014.
  16. ^ The English Patient at Rotten Tomatoes
  17. ^ The English Patient at Metacritic
  18. ^ The English Patient :: :: Reviews. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved June 10, 2008.
  19. ^ a b Van Gelder, Lawrence (March 25, 1997). "'English Patient' Dominates Oscars With Nine, Including Best Picture". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved June 18, 2008. 
  20. ^ a b "The 69th Academy Awards (1997) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  21. ^ "Berlinale: 1997 Prize Winners". Retrieved 2012-01-08. 
  22. ^; 1-28-2014.
  23. ^; Ballot (not vote) place 111.
Further reading
  • Blakesley, David (2007). "Mapping the other: The English Patient, colonial rhetoric, and cinematic representation". The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film. Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0-8093-2488-1. 
  • Massood, Paula J. (2005). "Defusing The English Patient". In Stam; Raengo, Alessandra. Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation. Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-23054-8. 
  • Minghella, Anthony (1997). The English Patient: A Screenplay by Anthony Minghella. Methuen Publishing. ISBN 0-413-71500-0. 
  • Thomas, Bronwen (2000). "Piecing together a mirage: Adapting The English patient for the screen". In Giddings, Robert; Sheen, Erica. The Classic Novel from Page to Screen. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-5230-0. 
  • Yared, Gabriel (2007). Gabriel Yared's The English Patient: A Film Score Guide. The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-5910-6. 

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