The English Patient is a 1996 epic romantic war drama film directed by Anthony Minghella from his own script based on the 1992 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 monastery 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, recalls his history in a series of flashbacks, revealing to the audience his true identity and the love affair he was involved in before the war. He does not admit his identity or reveal the entire story to the nurse who cares for him and the man who suspects him until the end of the film. This form of exposition is very different from the book, where, under the influence of morphine, the patient talks about his past.
The film 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.
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 staying. 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. Meanwhile, Caravaggio reveals that he has been seeking revenge for his injuries, and has killed the German interrogator who cut off his thumbs and the spy who identified him, but has been searching for the man who provided requisite maps to the Germans, allowing them to infiltrate Cairo. He suspects Almásy is that man.
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, Caravaggio decides to spare Almásy, who 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.
Ralph Fiennes as Almásy
Kristin Scott Thomas as Katharine Clifton
Juliette Binoche as Hana
Colin Firth as Geoffrey Clifton
Willem Dafoe as Caravaggio