The English Patient

Direction and screenplay by
Anthony Minghella

based on a novel by Michael Ondaatje

Much of this film is the recollections of a man identified as an "English patient," who suffered terrible burns when his plane was shot down in North Africa during World War II. His face is burned beyond recognition, and he suffers from loss of memory. When he is too weak to move forward with the Allied troops making their way through Italy, Hana, a French-Canadian nurse in the army, decides to stay with him at an abandoned Italian monastery. We see his past as he remembers: he is a Hungarian, Count Laszlo de Almasy, a member of an international team of explorers working in the North African desert for the Royal Geographic Society just before the outbreak of the War. The team, in addition to Almasy, includes and Englishman named Madox, a German, an Italian, and an Egyptian. The following scene is one of Almasy's first memories in the film -- the arrival of Geoffrey and Katharine Clifton at their camp in the desert.

Scene 1: The International Sand Club [scene runs from 22:23 to 23:22; for those with DVDs, it occurs five minutes before the end of ch. 6.]

[Greetings and introductions]

Geoffrey: [holding up a bottle of champagne]: To the international sand club.

D'Agostino: I'll get cups.

Madox: Marvelous plane, did you look?

Almasy: Yes.

Clifton: Isn't it. A wedding present from Katharine's parents. We are calling it Rupert Bear. To Almasy: Hello, Geoffrey Clifton.

Almasy: Almasy.

Madox: We can finally consign my old bird to the scrap heap.

D'Agostino: Mrs. Clifton, I'd like to present Count Almasy.

Katharine: Hello. Geoffrey gave me your monograph when I was reading up on the desert. Very impressive.

Almasy: Thank you.

Katharine: I wanted to meet the man who could write such a long paper with so few adjectives.

Almasy: Well, a thing is still a thing no matter what you place in front of it. Big car, slow car, chauffeur-driven car.

Clifton: A broken car?

Almasy: Still a car.

Clifton: Not much use though.

Katharine: Love, romantic love, platonic love, filial love, quite different things surely?

Clifton: Uxoriousness, that's my favorite kind of love-excessive love of one's wife. He hugs Katharine.

Almasy: Now there, you have me.

Scene 2: The Story of Gyges
[scene runs from 27:25 to 29:23. For those with DVDs, it begins at the beginning of ch. 7.]

The English Patient, whom we now understand to be Almasy, carries a worn copy of a book, Herodotus' Histories, and asks Hana, his nurse, to read to him from it. She starts reading the story of Gyges, and Almasy remembers another occasion around a campfire at their camp when Katharine takes her turn to entertain the group and chooses to tell them this same story. The scene shifts between Hana's reading and Katharine's telling the story.

Hana: The king said that he would find some way to prove beyond dispute that his wife was fairest among women. I will hide you in the room where I sleep, said Candaules.

Almasy: Candaules.

Hana: Candaules.

Katharine: Candaules tells Gyges that the Queen has the same practice every night. She takes off her clothes and puts them on the chair by the door to her room.

Hana: And from where you stand, you will be able to gaze on her at your leisure.

Katharine: And that evening it is exactly as the king has told him. She goes to the chair and removes her clothes one by one. Until she is standing naked in full view of Gyges. And indeed she was more lovely than he could have imagined. But then the Queen looked out and saw Gyges concealed in the shadows. And although she said nothing, she shuttered. Camera shows Almasy staring at her. And the next day she sends for, for Gyges and challenged him. And hearing his story this is what she said:

Clifton: interjecting, Off with his head! Laughter

Katharine: She said, either you must submit to death for gazing on that which you should not. Or else kill my husband who has shamed me and become king in his place. So Gyges kills the king, marries the Queen and becomes ruler of Lydia for 28 years. The End.

Shall I spin the bottle?

Madox: So Geoffery let that be a lesson to you.

Scene 3: Leaving Katharine
[scene runs from 42:49 to 43:37 . For those with DVDs, it begins two minutes before the end of ch. 8.]

Almasy: Clifton. Safe journey.

Clifton: You too, good luck. Glad the funds have turned up.

Almasy: following him as he walks toward his plane: Clifton, it's probably none of my business. Your wife, do you think it's appropriate to leave her?

Clifton: Appropriate?

Almasy: Well the desert is, for a woman, it is very tough. I wonder if it's not too much for her.

Clifton: Are you mad? Katharine loves it here, she told me yesterday.

Almasy: All the same, were I you…

Clifton: I've known Katharine since she was three, we were practically brother and sister before we were man and wife. I think I know what is and what isn't too much for her. I think she'd know herself.

Almasy: Very well.

Clifton: Why are you people so threatened by a woman?

Scene 4: The desert storm. [The scene runs from to 58:33 to 1:01:35. For those with DVDs it begins at the beginning of ch. 13.]

With Geoffrey away, a group from the camp, including Almasy and Katharine, go in search of the Cave of the Swimmers, where Almasy discovers beautiful figures painted on a wall deep in the cave. A car accident on the way leaves the group with only one operating car, and some must stay while others go for help. A sand storm drives Almasy and Katharine into one of the broken cars for shelter.

Katharine: This is not very good, is it?

Almasy: No.

Katharine: Will we be all right?

Almasy: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.

Katharine: Yes is a comfort. Absolutely is not.

The storm continues and sand piles up, almost covering the car.

Almasy: Let me tell you about winds. There is a whirlwind from Southern Morocco, the Aajej, against which the fellahin defend themselves with knives. And there is a Ghibi from Tunis

Katharine: A Ghibi?

Almasy: Which rolls and rolls and rolls and produces a rather strange nervous condition And then there is the Harmatton, a red wind which mariners call the sea of darkness. Red sand from this wind has flown as far as the south coast of England apparently producing showers so dense they were mistaken for blood

Katharine: Fiction! We have a house on that coast, and it has never, never rained blood..

Almasy: No, it's all true. Herodotus, your friend--

Katharine: My friend?

Almasy: writes about it, and he writes about a wind, the Simoon, which a nation thought was so evil they declared war on it and marched out against it in full battle dress. Theirs swords raised.

Almasy touches Katharine's hair. She doesn't object, but puts our her hand, and moves it across the window, which is now covered with sand.

Scene 5. Gazing on Katharine [scene runs from 1:27:34 to 1:29:09. For those with DVDs it occurs five minutes before the end of ch. 17.]

Katharine tells Almasy that Geoffrey is not really a buffoon, nor is their plane a wedding present. Rather, it belongs to the British government, and Geoffrey is not in Cairo, but making aerial maps of North Africa for the British. When Geoffrey is away on his missions-and when he is not-Katharine and Almasy cannot stay away from each other. The following scene occurs in Almasy's apartment in Cairo. They lie in bed together.

Almasy: I claim this shoulder blade. No. Wait. Turn over.
I want this. This place. I love this place, what is this called? I am going to ask the king permission to call it the Almasy Bosphorous.

Katharine: I thought you were against ownership.

Her remark seems to make Almasy thoughtful, and sad. He rolls over on his back.

Almasy: Madox knows, I think. He keeps talking about Anna Karenina, I think it's his idea of a man-to-man chat. It's my idea of a man-to-man chat.

Katharine: This is a different world-is what I tell myself. A different life. And here I am a different wife.

Almasy: Yes. Here you are a different wife.

Scene 6: Under your mittens [scene runs from 1:40:04 to 1:42:00. For those with DVDs, it occurs four minutes before the end of ch. 20.]

A Canadian named David Caravaggio comes to the monastery, and stays there with Hana and her English patient. He appears to know Almasy, but the circumstances are not yet clear. When the English patient asks him what is under his mittens, he remembers to his capture and torture by the Germans, as a British spy.

Caravaggio: The man who took my thumbs, I found him eventually. I killed him. The man who took my photograph, I found him too. That took a year. He's dead. Another man showed the Germans a way to get their spies to Cairo. I've been looking for him.

The English patient also begins to remember. Camera flashes back to Cairo, March, 1939:

Madox: You can't get through there, it is impossible.

Almasy: I was looking again at Bell's old maps. We can find a way through the wadi, we can drive straight into Cairo. This whole spur is a real possibility.

Madox: So on Thursday, you don't trust Bell's map. Bell was a fool. Bell couldn't draw a map, but on Friday, he is suddenly infallible. Where are the expedition maps?

Almasy: In my room.

Madox: Those maps belong to his Majesty's government. They shouldn't be left lying around for any Tom, Dick or Harry to have sight of.

Almasy: What on earth's the matter with you?

Madox: Don't be so bloody naive. You know there is a war breaking out. This arrived this morning: "By order of the British government all international expeditions to be aborted by May 1939."

Almasy and Madox leave the building in which they have been talking and walk through the streets of the city.

Almasy: What do they care about our maps?

Madox: What do we find in the desert? Arrowheads, spears. In a war if you own the desert, you own North Africa.

Almasy: Own the desert? Scoffs.
Um, Madox, that place. That place at the base of a woman's throat. You know the hollow here. Does it have an official name?

Madox: For God sake, man, pull yourself together.

Scene 7: The Consequences
[scene runs from 2:03:06 to 2:10:08. For those with DVDs, it occurs at the beginning of ch. 26.]

Almasy: Hana tells me you are leaving.

Caravaggio: There's going to be trials. They want me to interpret. Don't they know I am allergic to courtrooms? So, I come across the hospital convoy looking for this stuff. This nurse, Mary, tells me about you and Hana, hiding in some monastery, in, what did she call it? Retreat? How you came out the desert, and you were burned. You did not remember your name. But you knew the words to every song that ever was. And you had one possession: a copy of Herodotus. And it was filled with letters and cuttings. And I knew it was you.

Almasy: Me?

Caravaggio: I saw you writing in the book at the Embassy in Cairo when I had thumbs and you had a face and a name.

Almasy: I see.

Caravaggio: Before you went over to the Germans. Before you found a way to get Rommel's spy across the desert and inside British headquarters. He took some pretty good photographs. I saw mine in that torture room in Tobruk. So, it made an impression.

Almasy: I had to get back to the desert. I'd made a promise. The rest meant nothing to me.

Caravaggio: What did you say?

Almasy: That the rest meant nothing to me.

Caravaggio: There was a result to what you did. It wasn't just another expedition. It did this He holds up his hands. If the British hadn't unearthed that photographer, thousands of people could have died.

Almasy: Thousands of people did die, just different people.

Caravaggio: Yes, like Madox.

Almasy: What?

Caravaggio: You know he shot himself, your partner, when he found out you were a spy.

Almasy: Madox thought I was a spy? No. No, I was never a spy.

The English patient remembers the last time he saw Madox, before Madox returned to England.

Madox: It is ghastly, like a witch hunt. Anybody remotely foreign is suddenly a spy. So watch out.

Almasy: Right.

Madox: We didn't care about countries, did we? Brits, Arabs, Hungarians, Germans. It was something finer than that.

Almasy: Yes, it was.

Madox: I'll leave the plane in Kufrah Oasis. So if you need it.

Almasy: Right.

Madox: Hard to know how long everyone is talking about. We might all be back in a month or two. I have to teach myself not to read too much into everything. It comes with too long having to read so much into hardly anything at all.

Almasy: Goodbye, my friend.

Madox: God look after you, my friend. (His words are in Arabic)

Almasy: There is no God. But I hope someone looks after you.

Madox: In case you're still wondering, this is called a suprasternal notch.
Come and visit us in Dorset when this nonsense is over.
He walks away, and then turns back to him You'll never come to Dorset.

Return to present day:

Caravaggio: So you didn't know Madox shot himself?

Almasy: No.

Caravaggio: And you didn't kill the Cliftons?

Almasy: No, she, she died. I can't. Well, maybe I did. Maybe I did.


Almasy: I was packing up our base camp at the Cave of Swimmers, Clifton offered to fly down from Cairo to collect me. He flew like a mad man always, so I took no notice.

Clifton swerves the plane, aiming at Almasy, who falls to the ground to avoid being hit. The plane crashes. Almasy runs and finds Clifton dead, and Katharine hurt.

Almasy: Katharine. Dear God, Katharine, what are you doing here?

Katharine: Can't get out can't move. Surprise is it? Poor Geoffery. He knew. Must have known all the time. He was shouting, "I love you Katharine. I love you so much." Is he badly hurt?

Almasy: I have to get you out.

Katharine: Please don't move me.

Almasy: I have to get you out.

Katharine: It hurts too much.

Almasy: I know, darling, I am sorry.

Scene 8: Finding an Army [the two parts to this scene run from 2:16:01 to 2:18:12 and from 2:21:31 to 2:23:42. For those with DVDs, the first begins ch. 28, the second occurs four and a half minutes into ch. 28.]

Almasy leaves Katharine in the cave of Swimmers to get help, sure that he is "bound to bump into one army or another." After three days of walking in the desert, he arrives at the ancient trading post, El Taj, where the Allies are camped.

British soldier: Good morning. Where have you come from then?

Almasy: There has been an accident. I need a doctor to come with me, and I need to borrow this car. I'll pay of course. And I need morphine.

Soldier: May I see your papers, sir.

Almasy: What?

Soldier: May I see some form of identification.

Almasy: I am sorry, I am not making sense, forgive me. I've been walking. A woman is badly injured at the Gilf Kebir, the Cave of Swimmers. I am a member of the Royal Geographical Society.

Soldier: Now if I can just take your name.

Almasy: Count Laszlo de Almasy.

Soldier: Almasy. Do you mind spelling that?

Almasy: Look, listen to me will you?

Soldier: What nationality would that be?

Almasy: A woman is dying. My wife is dying. I have been walking for three days. I do not want to spell my name. I want you to give me this car.

Soldier: I understand you are agitated, perhaps if you'd like to sit down, I can radio back to HQ.

Almasy: No don't radio anybody. Just give me the *ing car!

[2:21:31 to 2:23:42. Begins four a half minutes into ch. 28]

Returns to present day

Almasy: So yes, she died because of me. Because I loved her. Because I had the wrong name.

Caravaggio: And you never got back to the cave?

Almasy: I did get back. I kept my promise. I was assisted by the Germans. There was a trade. I had our expedition maps. And after the British made me their enemy, I gave their enemy our maps. So I got back to the desert and to Katharine in Madox's English plane with German gasoline. When I arrived in Italy, on my medical chart they wrote, "English patient." Isn't that funny? After all that, I became English.

Caravaggio: You get to the morning and the poison leaks away doesn't it? Black nights. I thought I would kill you.

Almasy: You can't kill me. I died years ago.

Caravaggio: No, I can't kill you now.

Scene 9: Katharine's last words
[the scene runs from to 2:30:45 to 2:33:06. For those with DVDs, it occurs five and a half minutes before the end of ch. 31.]

Hana: (reading):My darling, I am waiting for you. How long is a day in the dark? Or a week? The fire is gone now and I am cold, horribly cold.

Katharine: I really ought to drag myself outside, but then there'd be the sun. I am afraid I waste the light on paintings and on writing these words. We die.

Hana: We die rich with lovers, and tribes. Tastes we have swallowed. Bodies we have entered, and swum up like rivers.

Katharine: Fears we have hidden in, like this wretched cave. I want all this marked on my body. We're the real countries, not the boundaries drawn on maps and the names of powerful men. I know you'll come and carry me out into the palace of winds. That's all I wanted: to walk in such a place with you, with friends, an earth without maps.

Hana: The lamp's gone out and I am writing in the darkness.

English Patient Questions

Guide to unit 6

back to unit 6