The English Patient
Based on Michael Ondaatje’s novel, an international group of archaeologists explore in Egypt, and a count from Hungary falls in love with an English wife as World War II is beginning.
A biplane flies over a desert, and German soldiers shoot at it from the ground. The plane catches on fire, and the pilot bails out.
On a train the pretty nurse Hana (Juliette Binoche) checks on a man who asks her to kiss him. She gives him a kiss, and others ask for favors too.
In the desert men with camels have taken things from the plane. On the ground the very badly burned Count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) is covered and is put on the back of a camel in a camel train.
In a hospital a wounded man asks if there is anyone from Picton. A woman in uniform asks if he knows Captain McGann, and the soldiers say he bought it yesterday; but the soldier tells her that he does not know him. They are suddenly attacked from the air.
In a desert cave men sit by fires. An Arab removes the cloth from the face of the burned man and puts an ointment on his burned face.
In October 1944 wounded soldiers walk on the beach with a nurse in Italy. A patient with a badly scarred face tells an officer what he remembers. He asks Hana for water and drinks. He remembers a garden and that he was married. He says he has only a little bit of lung left.
Hana accompanies the patient in a truck in a Red Cross convoy. They hear an explosion. Hana gets out, sees a truck burning, and runs to help the crying wounded; but a man stops her. Men use metal detectors to search for bombs in the dirt road. A soldier tells Hana not to move, and he goes to her and asks what she is doing. He walks her back out of the minefield. Hana asks her patient if he is in pain or needs anything. She brings something to help him and says she must be a curse or cursed because of what happens to anyone who loves her.
Hana sees an old bell tower and walks toward it and goes into the abandoned building.
Hana is walking and talking to an officer. She says she needs lots of morphine and a pistol. He is afraid for her and says they are going to Leghorn or Livorno as the Italians call it. Hana is staying behind with Laszlo and tells another nurse that she will catch up.
Hana removes her outer clothes and trims her hair. She carries books from a library and puts them on stairs. Laszlo asks her about the banging sound, and she says she found a library and is using books to repair the stairs. She fixes his pillows, and he asks her to read to him. She asks about his own book, and he says he can read Herodotus to her. He says Herodotus is the father of history, but she says she does not know anything. She feeds him a plum.
Outside Hana is bathing under a faucet in a bathtub.
Laszlo opens his old book, but it falls on the floor.
A healthy Laszlo de Almasy is talking with an old Arab and is drawing on a paper on the old book. A biplane lands, and people welcome Geoffrey Clifton (Colin Firth) to the expedition. They introduce D’Agostino (Nino Castelnuovo), Bermann (Peter Rühring), and Fouad (Hichem Rostom), and Geoffrey introduces his wife Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas). Clifton meets Count Almasy, and they prepare drinks in the “International Sand Club” in a tent. Almasy meets Katharine who says she read his monograph and was impressed by the lack of adjectives. They talk about adjectives for the words “car” and “love.”
Almasy tells Madox (Julian Wadham) they don’t need another pilot because you cannot explore from the air. Two planes fly together over mountains in the desert.
Hana tells Laszlo that she would like to move his bed so that he can see something. She says there is no sand, but he is under the influence of morphine. He says he can see his wife. He asks for a cigarette, and she asks if he is crazy. He asks why she is keeping him alive, and she says because she is a nurse.
At night Hana plays hopscotch on a patio.
At night the archaeologists sit around a campfire and entertain each other.
Hana reads from Herodotus to Laszlo.
At the campfire Katharine tells the story of how King Candaules told Gyges how to watch the queen take off her clothes, and Gyges sees her. The next day she challenged Gyges to either kill himself or King Candaules. Gyges killed the king, married the Queen, and ruled Lydia for 28 years.
Hana asks Laszlo if he is asleep, and he says no. She leaves him.
In the day Hana chases birds away from her garden. She picks up a metal cross, and David Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe) appears at the gate of the cemetery and says he is her neighbor. He comes in the gate and gives her eggs but drops one on the ground. She picks it up, takes it inside and puts it in a bowl. He says he was in Africa, and she says her patient was there too. He says he has to work. He is supposed to disarm the partisans and says he was a thief. She asks if he can shoot a pistol, and he says no. He holds up his hands, and she asks if he has a problem with them; but he says no. She wants to look at them. He says it is a big place, and he will not disturb her; he will sleep in the stable. She does not know what Mary told him about her, but she says she does not need company.
Hana takes an omelet to Laszlo and tells him a man is downstairs who brought eggs. She says he is Canadian too. Laszlo wonders why people from the same place are friendly. David is listening while out of sight.
While Hana is moving curtains, David comes in and tells Laszlo he is not a pick-pocket. Hana goes out, and Laszlo says they can swap war wounds. Laszlo says whoever she takes care of tends to die. David and Laszlo talk about their names and whether they are real.
In a marketplace Almasy asks Katharine how much she paid and says she paid too much. He admits he lacks social graces and offers to find out the right price.
In a restaurant the men are dressed formally, and Katharine is invited to join them. Geoffrey proposes a toast to absent wives, and Katharine says to future ones. Almasy dances with Katharine, and she asks him why he followed her to her hotel. He says he was concerned about her in that part of town. She says he should escort her, not follow her which is predatory.
Laszlo wakes up and asks Hana to move. She was lying on his stomach and lifts up her head. She goes in the kitchen with a lantern and washes her face. She starts crying, and David comes in and asks if she is all right. She tells him to leave her alone. He pours a glass of water and walks to the door. He says she is in love with him, but she says she is only in love with ghosts. David asks what if he had wounded his hands. She cries and tells him not to creep around the house. He says Laszlo has not forgotten anything.
In the camp they toast to map-making and Geoffrey and Katharine who raised the money. Geoffrey is flying back to Cairo to take photographs for the army. He says he could produce a guidebook.
The next day Almasy wishes Clifton a safe journey. He walks over to him and asks if it is appropriate for him to leave his wife there. Geoffrey says she likes it there, and he asks Almasy why he is so threatened by a woman.
Hana uncovers a piano and plays it. David hears the music and gives himself a shot with a needle. The Sikh Kip (Naveen Andrews) fires a shot and tells her to stop playing. He comes in and tells her that the Germans left mines everywhere. He says they liked to hide them in pianos. She wonders if she is safe if she plays Bach because he is German, and she laughs. He says he met her before, but she does not think so. He sees explosives underneath and says moving that would mean no more Bach.
Hana tells Laszlo about the mines and the Arab, but he says he is a Sikh if he wears a turban. She tends his wounds and says she liked it better when it was only two of them. He asks if they have jobs. She says they have to clear the roads of mines.
Hana is working in the garden and sees the Sikh leave on a motorcycle.
Almasy is driving a truck, and Katharine asks him why he came to the desert. He says he once traveled with a guide who did not speak for ten hours. He says that was a good day. She asks why he sings, and he denies it. She tells him to ask Al Auf, and in the back he sings, “I’ll be down to get you in a taxi, honey,” and she sings along.
They are climbing on a mountain while Muslims are praying aloud. Almasy finds a hand print on a rock. He goes in a cave with a flashlight and looks up at the walls and laughs. He comes out and calls Madox to come quickly. They see paintings on the walls of the cave. Madox says the figures depicted are swimming. Katharine paints on paper in the cave.
Bermann drives a truck and talks to Almasy. Kamal falls off the truck and rolls down a slope. Bermann turns that way and goes off the road, and overturning the truck several times. Another trucks turns that way and drives down the slope. The third truck stops, and they get out and run down to help them. Almasy says he is all right and gets out. Almasy helps push one damaged truck, and one is still on its side. Madox and Katharine are in the other truck, and Madox says they will be back within 36 hours. Almasy asks him to get a radiator and a better jack. Bermann gets in the back with the injured D’Agostino and Kamal. The front wheels get stuck in the sand. They get out and start to unload things. Katharine volunteers to stay the night and hopes that her husband will be motivated to come rescue them. They push the truck, and Almasy waves goodbye.
Three Arabs are working around the campfire, and Katharine shows some of her paintings to Almasy who says they took photographs and don’t need them. She wants him to have them, but he does not want to feel obligated. She says that would make him uncomfortable and walks off.
At night Katharine is smoking by herself, and Almasy tells her to come into the shelter. He shows her sand in the air and says a storm is coming. During the sand-storm they take shelter in the overturned truck. They use water to clean around their eyes. Almasy tells her about a whirlwind in Morocco and another one in Tunis. Mariners call a red wind the sea of darkness which blows as far as England. He says Herodotus wrote about it. He tells a story from history as he puts his hand on her head.
Laszlo in bed is remembering this.
The next day one side of the truck is covered with sand. Almasy and Katharine get out of the truck and wave to a vehicle. He fires a flare, but the vehicle keeps going. He asks her if he can paste her paintings in his book; he will be honored to have them. They run and start digging in the sand. They find the other truck that was completely covered and rescue the Arabs who were inside.
Katharine is sitting and looks at photos and notes in Almasy’s book. Almasy calls to her that he found a container of water.
At night Almasy fires a flare, and they watch it come down. Katharine says that she thinks Geoffrey may be flying for the army which wants to make maps of North Africa. They see the Arabs shouting to someone. She asks if she is K in his book and assumes she must be.
Hana brings food for Laszlo who is telling the Sikh Kip how to read Kipling. The Sikh complains that the British think they should rule India. She says she did not like that book either because it is about too many men, just like this house. Laszlo asks if she likes the Sikh, but she says he is indifferent to her. They laugh about making condensed milk sandwiches.
A truck arrives in Cairo, and the five get out. Katharine asks Almasy to come into the hotel with her, but he declines. He says she has his book, and she gives it back to him.
Almasy is sleeping in a bed, and, after knocking, Katharine comes in. He looks up and sees her. He gets up and walks over to her, and she slaps him. He falls on his knees and hugs her as she slaps him a couple more times. She gently brushes his hair with her hands and says he still has sand in his hair. She bends down and kisses him, falls to her knees and continues to kiss as she hugs him. He rips her dress in the front, and they passionately embrace as they lie down on the floor.
Later Almasy is sewing and singing in a bathtub while Katharine lounges on the bed. She is wearing a robe and gets up and sits behind him. She looks and says he sews badly, and he says she does not sew at all. She says a woman should not admit that. She tells him to close his eyes and starts washing his hair. He asks when she was most happy, and she says now. He asks when she was least happy, and she says now. He asks what she loves, and she answers water, fish, hedgehogs, and marmite. She takes off her robe and gets in the bath with him. She says baths but not with other people, islands, and his handwriting. She holds him in her arms and kisses him. He asks her to go on, and she says her husband. He asks what she hates most, and she says a lie. She asks what he hates most, and he says being owned. When she leaves, she should forget him. She gets out of the bath.
Hana asks Laszlo about a photo of a child, and he says it is him. She reads his notes about new lovers and that the heart is an organ of fire. She says she loves that and believes it. She asks who K is, and he says it is Katharine.
Katharine in white serves soldiers at a Christmas banquet outside. Almasy talks to her through a lattice and says he can’t sleep. She says she can’t either. He says he can still taste her, and he cannot write. He says he will catch her. A Santa Claus is there. Almasy writes notes. Katharine faints, and a woman asks if she is pregnant. She says she is going inside.
Almasy leads Katharine into a room alone and removes her corsage. While soldiers are singing, “Silent Night,” he pulls down a bra strap and caresses her leg. They kiss passionately.
The soldiers stand up for a toast and sing a patriotic song. Geoffrey in the Santa Claus suit sees Almasy and asks if he has seen Katharine. Almasy says he has not, and Geoffrey finds her and asks if she is pregnant. She says no; she is just hot. He says he will take her home, and she asks if they can really go home. She is dying for something green especially at Christmas. She says they could go home tomorrow if he wanted. He says they can’t because there might be a war. She says he loves a disguise. He says he loves her and kisses her. He says she smells of marzipan.
David looks at Laszlo and asks if it is him. Laszlo says he took his breathing for rain. He is dying for rain and is dying. Laszlo asks about paper.
Geoffrey in an office is calling Katharine and tells her he will be back tomorrow evening. He sits down and tells his colleague that he is going to surprise her on their first anniversary. Geoffrey asks David if the first wedding anniversary is cotton, and David says it is paper.
Geoffrey tells his cab driver to stop, and he sees Katharine get into a car.
Katharine is naked in bed, and Almasy puts on a record of a Hungarian folksong. He says his daughter sang it to him when he was growing up in Budapest. She likes it and asks what it means. He says it is about love and a fool who is on a quest but falls in love with an English woman. She starts slapping him as they laugh. She says she believed him. He tells her to turn over on her back and says he wants the place by her collarbone. She says she thought he was opposed to ownership. She asks him to stay tonight. He says that Madox knows because he is talking about Anna Karenina. She tells herself that this is a different world, and she is a different wife here. He agrees, and she kisses him. Outside Geoffrey is sitting in a parked car and drinking.
Almasy and Katharine are shopping, and she examines thimbles. She asks if he followed her that day at the market. He admits he did. She asks if he will be all right. They walk, and Geoffrey sees her returning to the hotel alone.
David has a record and says he liberated it. Hana says that Laszlo knows all the songs. David plays another, and Laszlo identifies it right away. Sgt. Hardy (Kevin Whately) comes in, and she says she has not forgotten that he saved her life. She goes outside and sees the Sikh washing his long hair. She gives him some olive oil, and he thanks her. He asks if it is for his hair, and she says it is as she leaves.
Laszlo tells David that he thinks he could get up and dance. He asks what is under his lips.
At Tobruk in June 1942 David in a white suit talks to an English officer as they walk through a building in turmoil. The officer asks if he knows Peter Madox. Outside soldiers are arriving by parachutes, walking, and in tanks and jeeps. David stands in a line controlled by German soldiers. A soldier points a pistol at him, and everyone else gets on the ground.
David is being interrogated as he is shown photographs. The German Major Muller (Jürgen Prochnow) says he is a Canadian spy working for the Allies with the code name Moose. David says he is sick and is leaking blood. The officer says they have no doctor, but they have a nurse. The officer asks him to give him some information so they can all get out of there. David says he has a wife in Tripoli. Muller tells him to give him ten names. Muller says he is sick of the room. He gets a razor blade, and David says he will give him names. He says he can’t think of any names. Muller tells the nurse to cut off his thumb, and she does so.
David shows his hands with missing thumbs to Laszlo, and he says that he killed the man who took his thumbs. He also found the man who took his photograph, and he is dead too. Now he is looking for the man who told the German spies how to get into Cairo.
At Cairo in March 1939 Almasy tells Madox how they can get into Cairo. Madox says their maps should not be left lying around because a war is breaking out. Madox says a letter arrived from the English government ordering all expeditions aborted by May 1939. They walk and talk about the desert of North Africa. Almasy asks Madox if the place at the base of a woman’s neck has a name. Madox tells him to pull himself together.
At night Katharine is watching a newsreel from England. Almasy comes in and apologizes. She says she can’t do this anymore and starts crying. He tries to comfort her. They sit under the bleachers, and she says she has to go. He says he does not agree. She says they will barge into someone, and it will kill him. He kisses her hand, and she walks away. He calls her name and says he is not missing her yet. She says he will and hits her head on a pipe as she goes.
Laszlo is in bed, and David is on the floor by his bed.
At a table fifteen people toast the International Sand Club as Almasy is arriving. Almasy calls them misfits, buggers, fascists, and fools, but he says they must not say “international” because it is a dirty word. Geoffrey asks his point, and he says that the Egyptians want to get rid of them because they are colonials. He says he has invented a new dance called the Bosphorus hug. He sings a song and says the words were cleaned up; it is for Mrs. Clifton. Madox goes to him and tells him to sit down. Almasy sits down and apologizes. Later Almasy watches as others dance. Katharine walks by, and he asks her why she was holding the man’s collar. He says he watched her at garden parties and asks how she can smile as if her life had not capsized. She asks if he knows why. He asks her to dance with him, and she says no. He touches her back, and she asks if he thinks he is the only one who feels anything. She turns and walks away.
Laszlo asks Hana to get some sleep, and she says good night and goes out. She finds candles burning and follows their trail, going outside and into another place. There she sees Kip.
Kip has given her a ride on a motorcycle to the plaza by the large building. He takes her inside and attaches a belt around her. He hands her a bright candle and lifts her up by a rope so that she can see the paintings on the walls of the church. She laughs. When she comes down, she thanks him with a kiss.
On a bed at night Hana asks Kip what he would do if one night she did not come to see him. He says he would try not to expect her. She asks if she was late, would he come to find her. He says no. She says that makes her not want to come there. She says he spends all day searching for her, and he wants to be found. He agrees that he does want to be found.
Hardy knocks, and Hana opens the door. He says he needs Kip because of a bomb. Kip comes out, and she tells him not to go because of her fear. He says he does this every day.
Kip is working in an excavated area on a large bomb, and Hardy says he will get the oxygen.
Hana rides a bicycle and sees army tanks with American flags driving on a road.
Kip works on the bomb and asks Hardy what is happening. Soldiers try to keep the tanks off the bridge, and Kip says the fuse has snapped. Hardy comes down and tells him to cut the detonator. The tanks do not stop for the shouting men. Kip does not know which wire and cuts one. The tanks have stopped, and they hear that the war is over. Hana finds Kip and hugs him. Hardy says they are going home and hugs a man.
Hana tells Laszlo it is raining, and they carry him outside him on a stretcher.
At night Hana dances with David. In a plaza people are celebrating. Hardy in his underwear climbs up on a statue.
Kip hears an explosion and runs out.
Kip arrives in the plaza on a motorcycle, and a soldier tells him the statue was booby-trapped. Hardy was raising the Union Jack and was killed. Kip learns that he had a secret fiancée. Hana pounds on the door, but Kip does not answer. She asks him to let her come in, but he does not move.
Hana hears David talking to Laszlo. David says he heard about a woman hiding in some monastery with a man who was burned, knew songs, and had one book by Herodotus. David says he knew it was him. He gives himself another shot. He says he saw him in Cairo before he went over to the Germans. He says he took photographs. Laszlo says he had to get back to the desert. David shows his hands and says it did this. Thousands of people could have died. Laszlo says thousands of others died anyway. David says Madox shot himself after he learned that Laszlo was a spy. Laszlo says he was never a spy.
In the camp Madox and Almasy agree they did not care about countries because it was something finer than that. Madox says where he will leave the plane. He says they may be back in a month or two. Madox says he has to teach himself not to read too much into anything after having reading a lot into very little. They shake hands and say goodbye. Almasy says there is no God. Madox says the neck indentation is called the “suprasternal notch.” He asks him to visit him in Dorset when all the nonsense is over. Then Madox says he never will come to Dorset.
David says Laszlo did not know that Madox shot himself, and he did not kill the Cliftons. Laszlo says never, and he asks if she is done. He says maybe he did.
A biplane flies over the camp. Almasy has packed up, and Clifton flies toward him and crashes the plane. Almasy runs to him and finds Katharine in the plane too. She says she can’t get out. She says Geoffrey must have known. She asks if he is badly hurt. Almasy says he has to get her out. She says it hurts too much, but he lifts her from the plane and carries her up the mountain. She asks why he hated her. She says he drove everyone mad. He tells her not to talk. She says he knows many languages and never wants to talk. He says she is wearing the thimble, and she says she always loved him. He takes her inside the cave with a flashlight and puts her on the ground. She says it is cold, and he says he is sorry. He starts a fire and says she has broken her ankle, a wrist, and probably some ribs. He will try to bind her ankle. He will walk to El Taj, but he will probably meet an army. He will come back. She does not want to die in the desert. She wants to be buried in the garden where she grew up. She says he promised he will go back with her. He promises he will come back and will never leave her. He says she has water and food which he will open for her. He turns off the flashlight and tells her not to waste it. She asks him to bury Geoffrey, and he says he is sorry. He says that every night he cuts out his heart, but in the morning it was full again. She calls him darling, and he kisses her.
Almasy is walking in the desert and singing. He stops at noon and twilight and walks for three days. He walks on the side of a mountain, and soldiers see him.
Almasy in the town tells a soldier there was an accident. He says he has been walking, and a woman is badly injured. The soldier asks for his name and writes it down. Almasy says his wife is dying. He has been walking for three days, and he needs a car. He gets upset, and a soldier hits him with a rifle.
In the cave Katharine is writing with a pencil, and the flashlight goes out, leaving her in the dark.
Almasy is in the back of a moving jeep and demands that they listen to him.
Almasy is on a train and is chained. He asks to use the lavatory and says it is urgent. He asks where they are going. They unchain him, and one man goes with him. He hits the man several times, and they struggle. He gets the key, unlocks his handcuffs, and jumps off the train.
Laszlo admits that she died because he loved her, because he had the wrong name. David asks if he got back to the cave. Laszlo says he was helped by the Germans, and he traded the British maps. He got back in Madox’s plane with German gasoline. After the accident he was classified as the “English patient.”
David says he can’t kill him. Laszlo says he is already dead. David says he will not kill him. Hana has been listening. She goes outside where Kip tells her that he is being posted to France. He says he was thinking about Hardy and the patient and everything that is good about England. They went through terrible things. He tells her that Hardy was engaged to a girl in the village. She says he loved him, and she smiles.
Almasy in a German uniform returns to the cave with a flashlight and sees Katharine sleeping. He lies down next to her and says her name.
Hana leans over Laszlo who tells her he is still there. He says the air in his lungs is a little less each day. He says David told him that there is a ghost in the cloister he can join. She sees Kip outside on his motorcycle and goes out to him. She says she will go back to the church and look at her paintings. He says he does too, and she says they will meet one day. He drives off.
Hana prepares the needle, and Laszlo pushes the bottles of morphine together. He thanks her, and she starts sobbing. He asks her to read him to sleep. She holds up the needle.
Almasy is lying next to Katharine in the cave.
Hana reads to Laszlo about death and fears in the wretched cave that were written by Katharine. She knows he will come and carry her out.
Almasy is carrying the body of Katharine from the cave as he cries.
Hana reads that the lamp has gone out, and she is writing in the dark. She smiles at Laszlo.
The airplane takes off.
Hana goes back into the empty room to get the book. David calls to her. She goes outside, and David introduces her to Gioia who will take her to Florence. Hana gets in the back of the truck with others. David drives in the front with Gioia.
The plane flies over the desert.
Hana looks at the scenery from the back of the truck.
This romantic drama portrays an adulterous affair made tragic by World War II. A scientific expedition is interrupted by the war as are the lives of its participants. Ironically the one called the “English patient” suffers and is made an enemy because of his Hungarian name, reflecting the tragedy of nationalistic wars. During war a nurse has to help the seriously wounded and the dying.