The English Patient (film)

The English Patient is a 1996 American romantic war drama film 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 tells the story of four people who find themselves in an abandoned villa in northern Italy in the last months of World War II. The eponymous protagonist, a man burned beyond recognition who speaks with an English accent, tells his story to the young nurse caring for him in a series of flashbacks, revealing his true identity and the love affair he was involved in before the war.

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

The film was released to critical acclaim, and 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.[6]


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 cannot remember his name. The patient's 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 unexploded bombs in the local area, including one in the monastery where Hana and the English Patient are residing. 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 to him, Hana and Kip through a series of flashbacks.

The patient tells Hana and Caravaggio that in the late 1930s he was exploring a region of the Sahara Desert near the Egyptian-Libyan border. He is revealed to be 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 are to contribute to the aerial survey efforts. 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.

While Almásy is packing up the base camp at the cave site, Geoffrey, in an attempted murder-suicide having apparently long known about the affair between Almásy and Katharine, deliberately crashes his own Boeing-Stearman plane, narrowly missing Almásy. Geoffrey is killed instantly and Katharine is seriously injured. Almásy carries her to the Cave of Swimmers, realising she is wearing the thimble he gave to her on a chain around her neck. She confesses that she has always loved him despite ending their affair. After leaving her with provisions and his book, Almásy begins a three-day walk across the desert to get help. At British-held El Tag he attempts to explain the situation, but on revealing his name, is detained on suspicion of being a German spy and transported on a train. He escapes from the train, and soon afterwards comes in contact with a German army unit. They transport him to Madox's sequestered plane at Kufra Oasis, where he exchanges its stored survey maps for fuel, enabling him to fly back to the cave. However, he finds that Katharine has since died. He carries Katharine's body from the cave to the Tiger Moth and takes off. This finally connects the story to the scenes at the start of the film, where the plane is shot down by German anti-aircraft guns; Almásy is badly burned, but he is rescued by a group of Bedouin, who bring him to the Siwa Oasis from where he is moved to Italy.

After he has related his story, Almásy indicates to Hana that he wishes to die, pushing several unopened vials of morphine towards her as she gives him his regular injection for pain relief. Though visibly upset, she grants his wishes for a compassionate death and, as he dies, she reads him Katharine's final letter, which Katharine wrote to Almásy in his book while she was alone in the cave. Hana and Caravaggio leave the monastery for Florence with a passing truck, and she hugs Almásy's book to herself as she rides away.



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.[7] During the development of the project with 20th Century Fox, according to Minghella, the "studio wanted the insurance policy of so-called bigger" actors.[8] Zaentz recalled, "they'd look at you and say, 'Could we cast Demi Moore in the role'?"[9] Not until Miramax Films took over was the director's preference for Scott Thomas accepted.[8]

The film was shot on location in Tunisia and Italy.[10] with a production budget of $31 million.[5]

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film (2002)[11] 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.[12]

Two types of aircraft are used in the film,[13] a De Havilland D.H.82 Tiger Moth and a Boeing-Stearman Model 75. Both are biplanes.[14][15] The camp crash scene was made with a 12-size scale model.

The Hungarian folk song, "Szerelem, Szerelem", performed by Muzsikas featuring Márta Sebestyén, 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 85 reviews, with an average rating of 7.85/10. 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."[16] The film also has a rating of 87/100 on Metacritic, based on 31 critical reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[17] 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".[18] 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".[19]


Organization/Association Award Actor/Crew Outcome Remarks
69th Academy Awards[20][21] 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 Art Direction: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: 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 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
Best Actor in a Leading Role Ralph Fiennes Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Kristin Scott Thomas Nominated
Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Anthony Minghella Nominated
54th Golden Globe Awards[20][21] 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)[22] 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[23]


  1. "The English Patient (15)". British Board of Film Classification. December 4, 1996. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  2. "The English Patient". American Film Institute. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  3. "The English Patient". British Film Institute. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  4. The English Patient at Box Office Mojo
  5. Shulgasser, Barbara (November 22, 1996). "Masterful 'English Patient'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  6. British Film Institute - Top 100 British Films (1999). Retrieved August 27, 2016
  7. Ondaatje, Michael (March 24, 2008). "Remembering my friend Anthony Minghella". The Guardian. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  8. Blades, John (November 24, 1996). "'The English Patient': Minghella's Film Fitting Treatment of Ondaatje Novel". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  9. "Saul Zaentz producer of Oscar winning movies dies at 92". The New York Times. January 5, 2014. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  10. "Film locations for The English Patient (1996)". 2014. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  11. Random House Inc.
  12. 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.
  13. "The English Patient". The Internet Movie Plane Database. 2015. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  14. "De Havilland D.H.82 Tiger Moth". 2015. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  15. "Stearman Model 75: History, performance and specifications". 2006. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  16. The English Patient at Rotten Tomatoes
  17. The English Patient at Metacritic
  18. Ebert, Roger (November 22, 1996). "The English Patient Movie Review (1996)". Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  19. Maltin, Leonard (2013). 2013 Movie Guide. Penguin Books. p. 416. ISBN 978-0-451-23774-3.
  20. 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.
  21. "The 69th Academy Awards (1997) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on February 1, 2012. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  22. "Berlinale: 1997 Prize Winners". Retrieved January 8, 2012.
  23. "BFI's Top 100 British Films of the 20th Century". 2015. Retrieved May 30, 2015.

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 978-0-8093-2488-0.
  • Deer, Patrick (2005). "Defusing The English Patient". In Stam, Robert; Raengo, Alessandra (eds.). 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 (eds.). 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 978-0-8108-5910-4.
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