Michael Ondaatje, who wrote the novel, took a real life person named Almasy and wove this fictional story out of the historical background and his own romantic ideas. WHO IS Almasy, the English patient? A hint- he is not really English. He has been labeled by several nationalities. Socially and morally, what type of person is he? He has been committed to nothing but his work and a passionate affair with a married woman.
Anthony Minghella has said that he wanted the picture to move. The novel’s story was loosely structured with different poems, letters, dialogue, and historical descriptions. The movie’s plot follows Almasy’s life just as WWII is ending and flashes back often to the 1930’s and the years leading up to WWII. The jumps in time and place are quite abrupt. This is what Minghella meant by having the picture move. You often don’t know when a cut has taken you back or forward in time and for that matter you don’t know if you can trust most of the characters. Fiennes as Almasy is shot down in a biplane and burned very early in the movie. His whole body is scarred, he has trouble breathing, and he claims he doesn’t remember who he is. His only possession is Herodotus’ histories in which he has slipped photos and letters from his life. He is transported through Italy by the Allies. Juliette Binoche is a nurse who takes special interest in making his last days comfortable. She has lost many friends in the war. Willem Dafoe mysteriously shows up at the abandoned church where they are staying and starts pushing Almasy to remember his past. Naveen Andrews is an Indian bomb expert serving the Allied forces by defusing bombs the Germans have planted. He and Binoche’s character begin a sweet little romance. As the back story on Almasy is gradually revealed, we see that he was an archeologist working in Egypt during a time when men of many different nationalities worked together on uncovering ancient cultural artifacts in the desert. On one expedition he meets Mr. and Mrs. Clifton played by Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas. What starts off as annoyance that a woman would get in the way of the expedition eventually turns into a passionate love affair with Katharine. After several ups and downs in their relationship, Colin Firth’s character becoming suspicious, and national lines being drawn as WWII appears on the horizon, the life and death quotient rises. Through one part of the story the audience wonders if the patient will survive long enough to tell his story. Dafoe’s character and not knowing if the war is over are also threats. But of course, he must. Through the flashback parts of the story the main suspense comes from seeing how Almasy ends up in the situation we see in the opening scenes. I was kept interested by the last segment of the movie especially as it rapidly spun more and more tragic set backs to Almasy’s love for Katharine.