When Elaine famously mutters the phrase “sex in a tub, that doesn’t work!” in Seinfeld, the writers probably didn’t know that the film she’s referencing would be better known for inspiring an episode of the show than for winning the Oscar. As great as the show, and that episode, were, let’s not forget that the ENGLISH PATIENT is truly one of the most touching and romantic films ever made. Anthony Minghella’s crowning achievement is truly a film to behold and will captivate you from start to finish.
As told in two intertwining tales, the first storyline begins with Hana (Juliette Binoche) taking a liking to a severely burned and bandaged patient she’s caring for as a nurse in WWII. She’s captivated with his story of love and loss as she herself is smitten with a nearby soldier (Naveen Andrews). We figure out quickly that the bandaged man is Count Laszlo de Almásy, who had crashed his aircraft in the opening sequence. Admittedly, this storyline is the lesser of the two and there are times where I feel like I’m waiting through this to get to the flashbacks. Willem Defoe turns up as a mercenary of sorts to quiz Laszlo about his travels, which provides a necessary spark at times. The romance between Hana and Kip is a little frivolous, but it’s a nice counter to the intense relationship we hear in Laszlo’s stories.
His story is the real draw in the film and it centers on his relationship with Katherine Clifton, played by Kristin Scott Thomas in a role that has cemented my love for her. It’s a complicated romance for sure as she happens to be married to another man. It’s true that it’s unfortunate that the extremely powerful love affair is actually an adulterous one, but the story is told so well that the audience roots for their survival even if it we know it isn’t right. But that sense of “wrong” throughout is addressed (very well, might I add) and it actually serves to heighten the intensity of the film. Laszlo and Katherine are incredible characters and the onscreen chemistry between Fiennes and Thomas is electrifying.
There’s a point in the film where Laszlo has to travel a long distance to reach Katherine, who is seriously injured. We know that her life is dependant on whether or not he can return to her in time and Minghella films this section of the film like a master painter. We have a feeling how it’s going to turn out and Minghella knows this, but it doesn’t take away from the drama unfolding on screen. I’ve seen the film a few times now and this entire stage of the film brings tears to my eyes as I clutch the armrests of my chair. This is powerful filmmaking and Minghella dangles the story in front of the audience like the proverbial carrot, making the eventual ending that much more intense.
Maybe you haven’t seen the ENGLISH PATIENT yet for whatever reason, but do yourself a favor and take the time to sit down with this amazing film.