In my opinion, the screen adaptation did not do justice to this Booker prize winning novel although Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas were beautifully cast. Author Michael Ondaatie's tale of the rememberance of an adulterous romance juxtaposed with the horrors of WWII loses some of its magic in the transition to film. Sadly, the author's arcane knowledge about the Great Silk Road, the Florentine Madonnas, various desert winds and the great Django Reinhardt have been severely compressed or omitted.
Told from the P-O-V of a dying protagonist under the influence of morphine, the sweeping story is revealed in numerous flashbacks. The locations alternate between a ruined villa in war torn Italy, glamourous Cairo, Egypt at Christmastime, 1938 and archaeological ruins in the uncharted North African desert. The Oscar nominated screenplay actually begins three-quarters through the book with aristocratic Hungarian explorer Lazlo Almaszy falling aflame from a burning plane into the Saharan desert. His rescue by Beoudins who save his life is both haunting and original.
The tragically disfigured Almasy is dubbed the English Patient when he ends up in a British field hospital where he refuses to reveal his identity. A skilled linguist, they think he is one of them, however, Almasy has good reason to conceal his true identity. There the shell-shocked nurse Hana starts caring for him and they end up in a villa where they are slowly joined by a few other characters.
There the brilliant, anti-social Count recounts the story of his doomed love affair with Katharine Clifton, a collegue's charming wife. Poor Almasy is a man who "fasted until he found what he wanted" and when he finally finds her, he is obsessed. For the love of K, he ultimately betrays his friends, his country and is forever haunted by their tragic destiny.
The screenplay does do an excellent job of making coherent the duel plot lines and numerous flashbacks. It is all here-adultery, homosexuality, necrophilia, drug addiction, treason, torture and murder in a story so compelling and so tragic one actually pities these fictional characters.