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The English Patient (1996)

At the close of WWII, a young nurse tends to a badly-burned plane crash victim. His past is shown in flashbacks, revealing an involvement in a fateful love affair.



(novel), (screenplay)
1,225 ( 346)

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Won 9 Oscars. Another 49 wins & 66 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Sgt. Hardy
Clive Merrison ...
Hichem Rostom ...
Peter Rühring ...
Geordie Johnson ...


October 1944 in war torn Italy. Hana, a French-Canadian nurse working in a mobile army medical unit, feels like everything she loves in life dies on her. Because of the difficulty traveling and the dangers, especially as the landscape is still heavily booby-trapped with mines, Hana volunteers to stay behind at a church to care solely for a dying semi-amnesiac patient, who is badly burned and disfigured. She agrees to catch up to the rest of the unit after he dies. All the patient remembers is that he is English and that he is married. Their solitude is disrupted with the arrival at the church of fellow Canadian David Caravaggio, part of the Intelligence Service, who is certain that he knows the patient as a man who cooperated with the Germans. Caravaggio believes that the patient's memory is largely in tact and that he is running away from his past, in part or in its entirety. The patient does open up about his past, all surrounding his work as a cartographer in North Africa, which ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


In love, there are no boundaries. See more »


Drama | Romance | War

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for sexuality, some violence and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






| | |

Release Date:

6 December 1996 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El paciente inglés  »

Box Office


$27,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$278,439 (USA) (15 November 1996)


$78,651,430 (USA) (5 September 1997)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


At a charity auction in New York in 2001, a shirt worn by Ralph Fiennes in the film fetched over $1900. See more »


When Almásy and Madox are walking through the market discussing the impending war, the camera's shadow can be seen clearly on two extras crossing in the close foreground. See more »


Almásy: Every night I cut out my heart. But in the morning it was full again.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The producer and director wish to thank The Tozeur District Governor. See more »


Referenced in Seinfeld: The Chronicle (1998) See more »


Aria + Variation 1
from "Goldberg Variations"
Music by Johann Sebastian Bach
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

9 March 2003 | by (Northern California) – See all my reviews

I am not surprised to find user comments for this film full of gushy nonsense, such as that this film "[proves] that when it is predestined, love will find a way." I begin in this way, not to criticize a specific reviewer, but because this citation so typifies the hyperbolic, uncritical treacle that was poured out over this film, even before it hit the theaters. Even the best of films do not "prove" anything, nor are they intended to. The best films entertain and move the viewer, and "The English Patient" fails on both criteria.

I remember the studio's promotion of "The English Patient" very clearly: "From the producers of 'Amadeus' and 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,'" it grandly announced. An ignorant or careless listener might miss the crucial word, "producers," in this disingenuous statement and mistakenly associate the director of "The English Patient," so very inappropriately, with the truly great director, Milos Forman. Such a comparison is offensive to the memory of Mr. Forman.

While the novel by Michael Ondaatje upon which the film was based, is a good one, it is unfortunate that the film failed to capture any quality of the book in any way whatsoever. Aside from plot elements that seem only coincidentally similar, the film bears little resemblance to the novel.

Despite misgivings which began when I heard that shamelessly misleading promotion, I went to see this film in the theater. As it began to unfold, I realized that the rendering of the novel's peculiar magic had failed, that the actors knew their words but not their characters, and that their characters were flat, dull, and unengaging. The film was a complete travesty of Ondaatje's novel and a completely still-born cinematic artifact of the worst description.

Those who gush over this film are very apt to speak with adjectives like, "sweeping," and "grand," and "hypnotic." Well, it is none of those. In fact, not even Ondaatje's fine novel could be described as "sweeping" or "grand." It could be described as "magical" and "hypnotic" -- yet these are precisely the qualities that the film so utterly failed to deliver. It is almost as if Minghella had, as a reader, entirely missed what was valuable in the novel and could grind out on celluloid only a pale, skeletal version, a version that not only missed the spirit of the story, but that focused on the wrong characters. He produced a filmic transliteration that not only had no respect for story's metaphors but no apparent cognizance of them, as well.

Minghella took the central focus away from Hana and Kip and put it on the Patient and Katherine Clifton, thereby missing the narrative trail of the novel as well as the "essence" of it.

Ralph Fiennes and Kristen Scott Thomas put in unengaging, uninspiring, uninvolving, unemotional performances that were obviously intended to convey a great, driving, passionate love-affair to the viewer, but which in fact delivered only an inexplicable, perfunctory liaison between two flat, shallow, uninteresting adulterers. Both actors are physically and emotionally inadequate and unexciting, and neither performance provided the viewer with the great emotional response obviously intended by Minghella's grandiose and overblown presentation.

The "grand, sweeping, David-Lean-like" qualities to which the many undiscriminating reviewers of this goofy film love to refer simply is not there. The comparison to David Lean ("Dr. Zhivago") is positively insulting to yet another great director. Take, for example, the "Patient's" sandstorm scene, which is no doubt one wherein these "grand, sweeping" qualities are believed to have resided (or should have resided): the sandstorm is not grand -- it is not even convincing. The subsequent burying of the characters in the automobile and their emergence after the storm, which no doubt was supposed to affect the viewer dramatically and emotionally, completely lacked either drama or emotion --in fact, because it was so patently weak, it had an air of comedy about it where comedy was clearly out of place.

This film failed. It failed as a rendering of the novel, and it failed as a film. It seems to have been the "anointed Oscar vehicle" of the year (joining such over-trumpeted filmic slosh as "Kramer vs. Kramer" or "Terms of Endearment"). One can only thank God that even the hype-driven Acadamy

had the good sense to present the Best Actress award to Frances McDormand for her truly deserving performance in the truly excellent film, "Fargo." There was not a single performance in the execrable "English Patient" that was not either embarrassingly horrid over-acting (Willem Dafoe) or truly forgettable, mediocre acting (Fiennes and Scott Thomas).

Why this non-entity of a film retains a coven of fanatical (and clearly tasteless) devotees will remain a mystery. Fortunately, the sands of time will bury this mediocrity of a film permanently, and it will not, thankfully, have the strength ever to dig itself out.

66 of 106 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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