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Ralph Fiennes
Kristen Scott Thomas
Colin Firth
Juliette Binoche
Willem Dafoe
Naveen Andrews
Julian Wadham
Jurgen Prochnow

Anthony Minghella




The Novel

Time: 132 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: History/Romance/Drama

Won Academy Awards for Best Director, Picture, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Sound, Original Score and Supporting Actress. Nominations in 3 other categories.

A quiet, epic picture, THE ENGLISH PATIENT is the film the major studios wish they had the balls to make. A film with everything – a great story, intriguing, beautiful characters and stunning exotic locations. From what I've heard adapting the story was not an easy task, which may be why the big guns didn't want to get anywhere near this...and thank God. If they had I'm sure it would have been butchered, taking out all of the interesting bits so it could be swallowed by the least common denominator. I'm also sure it would have had a happy ending. As the film points out, the path to true love is never easy or simple. In this case, it is strewn with broken hearts, jealousy and ugly complications. The story takes place during World War II in various countries across Europe. Juliette Binoche plays a Red Cross nurse who's in charge of a burn patient known as the English Patient – a man discovered with no papers in such a horrible condition that he barely looks human. As they retreat across Italy, she forces the trucks to stop and let them out at a deserted villa.

The patient doesn't have much time left and the bumping on the roads causes him great pain. To help pass the time as she cares for him, he tells her his tale of love and deception. It's all he can do while he waits to die. It's understandable that no studio would want to make a movie where their lead male star, and an exceptionally attractive one at that, is hidden behind grotesque burn makeup most of the time. However, much of the film is told in flashback, where his story unfolds, with Ralph Fiennes looking better than ever. He is entrancing as a Hungarian cartographer helping the British government map various desert landscapes. It is here that he meets the blond and bewitching Katherine, played by Scott-Thomas. She is a fun-loving, beautiful unstoppable force of a lady and it's easy to understand why he immediately falls deeply in love with her. He, on the other hand, is kind of an aloof, snobby prick, which is why it takes her a while to reciprocate his feelings. Besides she's happily married to a wonderful man, though they are more friends than lovers.

"New lovers are nervous and tender, but smash everything. For the heart is an organ of fire."

The Count finds a door in her heart that's never been opened before and once he has the key, there's no turning back. Their passion for each other knows no bounds, and as much as she doesn't want to hurt her husband, she cannot deny her feelings. Neither could I. There's something about him in this film that is undeniably mesmerizing. It's apparent from the beginning, however, that this affair is not going to end well. Obsessive love never does. Suffice it to say that things end very badly for Katherine, who meets a truly horrific end. Both of them wind up suffering terribly for their love, though neither would take back the experience. Meanwhile, back in the present, Juliette's character is finally finding love of her own. She sealed off her heart because everyone in her life ends up dead. The problem with coming of age during wartime. Her patient's story makes her realize that love is a gift rarely found and one that should not be squandered. So she lets herself fall for a local Indian man (from India) and discovers the sweetest relationship of her life. It's difficult for her to overcome her fear of losing him, but once she does he shows her a whole new world. Minghella beautifully melds the two stories together, showcasing the best and worst aspects of falling in love. The dangers of the war make the stories all the more compelling, infusing them with an urgency that can't be denied. Some people found this lushly intricate tale boring and overdone, but I found it to be utterly enchanting.

The charisma between Fiennes and Scott-Thomas is electrifying. This showcases to a tee what onscreen chemistry should be like. Neither of them has ever been this sexy, before or since. His crooked smile and stark blue eyes are a siren call for anyone in a skirt. Even his brusque manner can't hide the unrelenting passion he feels for Katherine. How anyone could resist her easy nature, intelligent conversation and stunning cheekbones is beyond me. She's the sexy, girl-next-door every man wishes to tame. Though their love is so wrong, you want them to be together. The connection is that palpable. On the other hand, no one plays lovable British losers better than Colin Firth. We're supposed to believe that there's no real passion between him and Katherine, that the affair hurts no one, but one look into his sad eyes tells a different tale. He wants to be the love of his wife's life, but he has absolutely no idea how to tap into her spirit. Binoche is enchanting and heartbreaking as a woman learning to live and love again. She wears her pain like a second skin that is slowly peeled away layer by layer. Her story gives the film hope and heart.

Lovers of David Lean-style epics like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and DR. ZHIVAGO are in for a real treat. Money, time and the lack of great stories make films like this a treasure of the past. THE ENGLISH PATIENT captures the spirit and mood of these classics with its far-reaching scope, intriguing mystery and compelling characters. It's a film that sweeps one along to a whole different time and place, filled with flawed people grasping at the mirage of true happiness. The locations are extraordinary. The desert hasn't been so intoxicating or deadly since LAWRENCE graced the screen. Yared's Oscar-winning music is haunting and romantic, playing a major role in the quality and tone of the story. It's everything a score should be. Minghella takes a daunting and confusing tale and weaves an amazing tapestry of personal strength, lasting romance and desperate humanity. All the elements fit perfectly together to create a story you won't soon forget. An experience like this is what films were made for. Unfortunately, we probably won't see another like it for a very long time.

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