Anthony Minghella read the novel in one sitting after completing a previous shoot in New York; when he finished, he was completely disoriented and at first couldn't remember where he was, but he phoned Saul Zaentz the next morning to try and interest him in the project. Saul Zaentz not only read the book but discovered that author Michael Ondaatje was giving a reading near Saul Zaentz's home that weekend.
Originally, 20th Century Fox was to finance the film, but disputes arose between the studio and the producers over casting. In particular, Fox preferred a more well-known actress to play Katharine Clifton instead of Kristin Scott Thomas; Demi Moore was lobbying particularly hard for the role. After the producers refused to give in on a series of casting choices, Fox backed out of the film, and the project was uncertain just as production was about to begin. However, within a few weeks - during which the cast and crew stayed on in Italy without knowing if the film would be made - the film was picked up by Miramax.
In 2005, Juliette Binoche had her Oscar touched up by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Her three-year-old son was fond of playing with it and it had subsequently become tarnished and peeling. One of the perks of being an Oscar-winner is that you can have your Oscar repaired for free by the Academy.
Was the first digitally-edited film to win an Academy Award for Best Film Editing (Walter Murch). Murch began editing the film mechanically, but then switched to the Avid system after his son suffered a medical emergency so that he could work from his home while his son recovered. Murch writes about the experience in his book "In the Blink of an Eye (2nd Ed.)."
The character name, 'Kip', apparently was Michael Ondaatje's nickname at school. This was a reference to cooking oil stains on his exercise books which reminded the wags among his fellow pupils of kipper fish which were canned in such oil.
While there is the suggestion that the mysterious English patient has been shot down and fallen from the sky at the start of the film, there is a more explicit scene at the end of the film that was cut, depicting Almasy slowly falling to earth, dangling from a pure white parachute shown against a clear blue sky, the upper part of his body engulfed in flames ("The heart is an organ of fire" is a quote from the film). The scene is mentioned on the Saul Zaentz Co. website: "Blue screen work that involved the opening and the closing scenes of the film, in which the unnamed pilot and a lifeless woman are shot out of the sky and fall to earth, were completed on the main sound stage at Cinecitta, and production wrapped on January 31, 1996." The scene was shown on a CBC broadcast of an interview with Anthony Minghella but never appeared in the final cut of the ending of the film.
The motorcycle that Kip rides throughout the film, sometimes with Hana, is a Triumph 350cc 3HW. Triumph was the make of motorcycle actually specified in the original novel upon which the film is based.
The two biplanes used by the cartographers were original 1930s aircraft designs, the yellow one an American Stearman Model 75; the silver one a British De Havilland DH82 Tiger Moth. Of the two, the Stearman is unlikely to have been in the possession of a (British) civilian during the 1930s - nearly all were built for the US military as primary trainers. There were a few hundred civilian-operated Tiger Moths, however, and it is quite likely that a cartographer in the employ of the RGS would have access to one. Both types were heavily used before and during WW2 and many military surplus versions were operated by civilians postwar.
Both Naveen Andrews and Kevin Whately had to learn to ride motorcycles for the film. There was some concern that Andrews would not pass his test before filming began but he completed his course successfully.
When Kip (Naveen Andrews) is packing his things before he leaves he also packs up the belongings of Hardy (Kevin Whately). Among the belongings is a scarf for Sunderland AFC (a football club based in North East England). In real life the actor Kevin Whately is a committed, life-long supporter of Newcastle United Football Club who share a heated rivalry with Sunderland AFC.
According to Clive Merrison in a interview with Toby Hadoke he was on the film for a month but his role was cut to one scene. He also revealed that many other actors had their role totally deleted from the film.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Hana is very distressed when Kip is called on to disarm a bomb since she fears she will never see him again. When Kip is with the bomb he reads off its serial number which starts with "K-K-I-P..." The bomb literally has his name on it.