The English Patient (film)

The English Patient is a 1996 epic romantic war drama film directed by Anthony Minghella from his own script based on the 1992 novel of the same name by Michael Ondaatje and produced by Saul Zaentz. The film tells the story of four people who find themselves in an abandoned monastery in northern Italy in the last months of World War II.

The English Patient
The English Patient Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAnthony Minghella
Screenplay byAnthony Minghella
Based onThe English Patient
by Michael Ondaatje
Produced bySaul Zaentz
CinematographyJohn Seale
Edited byWalter Murch
Music byGabriel Yared
Tiger Moth Productions
Distributed byMiramax Films (through Buena Vista International outside the United States[1])
Release date
  • November 15, 1996 (1996-11-15)
Running time
162 minutes[2]
CountriesUnited States[3][4]
United Kingdom[5]
  • English
  • German
  • Italian
  • Arabic
Budget$27–31 million[6][7]
Box office$232 million[6]

The eponymous protagonist, a man burned beyond recognition who speaks with an English accent, recalls his history in a series of flashbacks, revealing to the audience his true identity and the love affair he was involved in before the war. He does not admit his identity or reveal the entire story to the nurse who cares for him and the man who suspects him until the end of the film. This form of exposition is very different from the book, where, under the influence of morphine, the patient talks about his past.

The film received 12 nominations at the 69th Academy Awards, winning nine, including Best Picture, Best Director for Minghella, and Best Supporting Actress for Juliette Binoche. It was also the first to receive a Best Editing Oscar for a digitally edited film. Ralph Fiennes, playing the titular character, and Kristin Scott Thomas were Oscar-nominated for their performances. The film also won five BAFTA Awards and two Golden Globes. The British Film Institute ranked The English Patient the 55th greatest British film of the 20th century.[8]

As of August 2021, the novel is currently in early development for a new BBC television series, co-produced by Miramax Television and Paramount Television Studios.[9][10]


In the final days of the Italian Campaign of World War II, Hana, a French-Canadian nurse of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, gains permission from her unit to move into a bombed-out Italian monastery, to look after a dying, critically burned man who speaks English but allegedly cannot remember his name. His only possession is a copy of Herodotus' Histories, with notes, pictures and mementos contained inside.

They are soon joined by Kip, a Sikh sapper in the British Army posted with his sergeant to clear mines and booby traps left by the Germans, including one discovered in the monastery where Hana is staying with her patient. David Caravaggio, a Canadian Intelligence Corps operative who has no thumbs as a result of torture during a German interrogation, also arrives to stay at the monastery. Caravaggio questions the patient, who gradually reveals his past through a series of flashbacks.

The patient reveals that in the late 1930s he was exploring a region of the Sahara Desert near the Egyptian-Libyan border. He is, in fact, Hungarian cartographer Count László de Almásy, who was mapping the Sahara as part of a Royal Geographical Society archeological and surveying expedition in Egypt and Libya with a group including his good friend, Englishman Peter Madox. Their expedition is joined by a British couple, Geoffrey and Katharine Clifton, who own a new plane and will contribute with aerial surveys.

Almásy is given clues by a local Bedouin man which help the group to discover the location of the Cave of Swimmers, an ancient site of cave paintings in the Gilf Kebir. The group begin to document their find, during which time Almásy falls in love with Katharine. He writes about her in notes folded into his book, which Katharine discovers when Almásy awkwardly accepts her offer of two watercolours she has painted of the cave imagery, and asks her to paste them into the book.

The two begin an affair on their return to Cairo, while the group arranges for more detailed archaeological surveys of the cave and the surrounding area. Almásy buys a silver thimble in the market as a gift to Katharine. Some months later, Katharine abruptly ends their affair from fear her husband Geoffrey will discover it. Shortly afterwards the archaeological projects are halted due to the onset of the war. Madox leaves his Tiger Moth aeroplane at Kufra Oasis before his intended return to Britain.

Over the days while Almásy relates his story, Hana and Kip begin a shy love affair, but Kip is reposted once he has cleared the area of explosives. They agree they will meet again. Meanwhile, Caravaggio reveals that he has been seeking revenge for his injuries, and has killed the German interrogator who cut off his thumbs and the spy who identified him, but has been searching for the man who provided requisite maps to the Germans, allowing them to infiltrate Cairo. He suspects Almásy is that man, and asks him point blank "Did you kill the Cliftons?", to which Almásy shakes his head, but then concedes "Maybe... I did".

Returning to the past, Almásy is packing up the base camp when Geoffrey Clifton arrives overhead. Instead of landing he aims straight for Almásy. At the last minute, Almásy dives out of the way. Scrambling over to the wreckage he finds Geoffrey, dead at the controls. To his grief, he finds Katherine is present as well, badly hurt in the front seat. She tells him Geoffery knew, perhaps had always known. He apparently was heartbroken, and was attempting a murder-suicide. Almásy carries her to the Cave of Swimmers. He notices around her neck she is wearing a chain bearing his gift. "You're wearing the thimble" he says. "Of course, you idiot. I've always worn it. I've always loved you."

Leaving her in the cave with provisions and his book, Almásy attempts a three day walk across the desert to get help. Finally arriving at British-held El Tag, he explains the desperate situation and asks for a car, but is frustrated by the young officer's unwillingness to cooperate. Detained on suspicion of being a spy, he is transported away by train. He escapes and soon afterwards comes into contact with a German army unit. They take him to the Kufra Oasis, where Madox has hidden his plane. Exchanging maps for fuel, Almásy takes to the air and finally reaches the cave, only to find that Katharine has died. He carries her body from the cave back to the plane and takes off. The image of a plane flying across a sea of desert connects the story to the start of the film, where a plane is doing just that before it is shot down by German gunners. Almásy is badly burned, but he is pulled from the wreckage and rescued by a group of Bedouin, who bring him to the Siwa Oasis, from where he is moved to Italy. After hearing the story Caravaggio gives up his quest for revenge.

Pushing several vials of morphine towards Hana, Almásy tells her he has had enough, he wants to die. Though visibly upset, she grants his wish, and administers a lethal dose. As he drifts to sleep, she reads him Katharine's final letter, written to Almásy while she was alone in the cave. The next morning Caravaggio returns with a friend, and they get a lift to Florence. Hana holds Almásy's book tight as she rides away.



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

Saul Zaentz was interested in working 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.[11] During the development of the project with 20th Century Fox, according to Minghella, the "studio wanted the insurance policy of so-called bigger" actors.[12] Zaentz recalled, "they'd look at you and say, 'Could we cast Demi Moore in the role'?"[13] Not until Miramax Films took over was the director's preference for Scott Thomas accepted.[12]

The film was shot on location in Tunisia and Italy.[14] with a production budget of $31 million.[7]

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film (2002)[15] by Michael Ondaatje is based on the conversations between the author and film editor. Murch, with a career that already included such complex works as 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.[16]

Two types of aircraft are used in the film,[17] a De Havilland D.H.82 Tiger Moth and a Boeing-Stearman Model 75. Both are biplanes.[18][19] The camp crash scene was made with a 12-size scale model.

The Hungarian folk song, "Szerelem, Szerelem", performed by Muzsikas featuring Márta Sebestyén, was featured in the film.


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 85% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 88 reviews, with an average rating of 7.89/10. The website's critical consensus states, "Though it suffers from excessive length and ambition, director Minghella's adaptation of the Michael Ondaatje novel is complex, powerful, and moving."[20] The film also has a rating of 87/100 on Metacritic, based on 31 critical reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[21] Chicago Sun Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film a four-star rating, saying "it's the kind of movie you can see twice – first for the questions, the second time for the answers".[22] In his movie guide, Leonard Maltin rated the film 3+12 out of 4, calling it "a mesmerizing adaptation" of Ondaatje's novel, saying "Fiennes and Scott Thomas are perfectly matched", and he concluded by calling the film "an exceptional achievement all around".[23]

Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "A−" on a scale of A+ to F.[24]


Organization/Association Award Actor/Crew Result Remarks
69th Academy Awards[25][26] Best Picture Saul Zaentz Won
Best Director Anthony Minghella Won
Best Actor in a Leading Role Ralph Fiennes Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Kristin Scott Thomas Nominated
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Juliette Binoche Won
Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Anthony Minghella Nominated
Best Art Direction Art Direction: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephanie McMillan Won
Best Cinematography John Seale Won
Best Costume Design Ann Roth Won
Best Film Editing Walter Murch Won
Best Original Dramatic Score Gabriel Yared Won See The English Patient (soundtrack). As he accepted the Academy Award for Best Song, for "You Must Love Me" in Evita, Andrew Lloyd Webber joked, "Thank heavens there wasn't a song in The English Patient is all I can say", since it had such a strong presence.
Best Sound Walter Murch, Mark Berger, David Parker, and Christopher Newman Won
54th Golden Globe Awards[25][26] Best Motion Picture – Drama Saul Zaentz Won
Best Original Score Gabriel Yared Won
Best Director Anthony Minghella Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Ralph Fiennes Nominated
Best Actress in a 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)[27] Silver Bear for Best Actress Juliette Binoche Won
Golden Bear Anthony Minghella Nominated
Year Category Distinction
2002 AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions #56
1999 BFI Top 100 British films #55[28]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The English Patient (1996)". BBFC. Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  2. ^ "The English Patient (15)". British Board of Film Classification. December 4, 1996. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  3. ^ "The English Patient". American Film Institute. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  4. ^ "The English Patient". British Film Institute. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  5. ^ Bauer, Patricia. "The English Patient". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  6. ^ a b The English Patient at Box Office Mojo
  7. ^ a b Shulgasser, Barbara (November 22, 1996). "Masterful 'English Patient'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  8. ^ British Film Institute - Top 100 British Films (1999). Retrieved August 27, 2016
  9. ^ Smith, Anna. "The English Patient – is it time to revive the epic romance?". Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  10. ^ "'The English Patient' TV Series Adaptation In Works At BBC From Emily Ballou & Miramax TV". Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  11. ^ Ondaatje, Michael (March 24, 2008). "Remembering my friend Anthony Minghella". The Guardian. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  12. ^ a b Blades, John (November 24, 1996). "'The English Patient': Minghella's Film Fitting Treatment of Ondaatje Novel". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  13. ^ "Saul Zaentz producer of Oscar winning movies dies at 92". The New York Times. January 5, 2014. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  14. ^ "Film locations for The English Patient (1996)". 2014. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  15. ^ Random House Inc.
  16. ^ Bolton, Chris (August 31, 2002). "The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje". Powell's Books. Archived from the original on May 30, 2015. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  17. ^ "The English Patient". The Internet Movie Plane Database. 2015. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  18. ^ "De Havilland D.H.82 Tiger Moth". 2015. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  19. ^ "Stearman Model 75: History, performance and specifications". 2006. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  20. ^ The English Patient at Rotten Tomatoes
  21. ^ The English Patient at Metacritic
  22. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 22, 1996). "The English Patient Movie Review (1996)". Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  23. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2013). 2013 Movie Guide. Penguin Books. p. 416. ISBN 978-0-451-23774-3.
  24. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on December 20, 2018. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  25. ^ a b Van Gelder, Lawrence (March 25, 1997). "'English Patient' Dominates Oscars With Nine, Including Best Picture". The New York Times. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  26. ^ a b "The 69th Academy Awards (1997) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on February 1, 2012. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  27. ^ "Berlinale: 1997 Prize Winners". Retrieved January 8, 2012.
  28. ^ "BFI's Top 100 British Films of the 20th Century". 2015. Retrieved May 30, 2015.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit