Anthony Minghella‘s lavish adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s Booker-winning novel was critically adored and showered in Oscars (although it provoked a backlash for expansive pretension in snide hindsight). In truth, it was a breathtakingly beautiful, delicately performed if tritely concluded WWII romantic epic.
Minghella crafts one of the greatest opening shots – a biplane soars over the Sahara desert and is shot down in flames by Nazi gunmen. There are two people onboard, Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Hungarian explorer, Count Laszlo Almasy (Ralph Fiennes).
The Count alone survives the crash and is rescued by local tribesmen, but he’s badly burnt beyond recognition.
Set mostly during World War II, but moving intelligently between North Africa at the start of World War II and Italy as the war is drawing to a close, The English Patient tells the story of the great love of Almasy, and recently married painter, Katharine.
Hana (Juliette Binoche) – a French-Canadian nurse in a ruined monastery in Italy – cares for the enigmatic, badly burned man known only as “The English Patient.” Nobody knows his name and he claims to suffer from amnesia, the patient is not expected to live more than a few weeks so Hana decides to look after him in solitude.
She reads to him from his one surviving possession – a battered volume of Herodotus. The book stirs long memories of his affair with the mysterious Katharine.
Meantime, Hana must fend off the creepy intrusions of an allied spy, Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe) who recognises the patient and has a hidden agenda.
Hana also has to deal with the arrival of a Sikh minesweeper called Kip (Naveen Andrews), to whom she finds herself deeply attracted, and Sergeant Hardy (Kevin Whately).
We realise the mysterious patient is, in fact, Almasy, and through his dreams and flashbacks Almasy’s memory comes flooding back to him . . .
Almasy was part of a Royal Geographical Society team surveying the Sahara for the British Air Force. It’s then that he meets, falls in love, and begins an affair with Katharine, the wife of pilot (Colin Firth) who is helping with the scheme.
Count Laszlo Almasy