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The English Patient: A Screenplay Paperback – 1 Jan 1997
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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.
the story when reading the book; trying to condense hundreds of pages of prose to 120 pages of sparsely written screen directions
and (one hopes) pithy, memorable dialogue; and not least, dealing with an author resentful of the screenwriter's "messing around"
with his or her work. But in "The English Patient", a screenplay by Anthony Minghella, who also directed the film, we have an adaptation
brilliant in its execution, one which the author actually praises in a prologue to the published script (Miramax Books). The script is based
on Canadian author Michael Onjaatje's novel of the same name. The novel is quite different, an amazing, drug-hazed trip in its own right.
When Minghella decided to do the film version, he read the book once, then put it away and began afresh. He's taken the sense of the
book, the emotional core of it, and brought that forward, using elements from the novel and inventing a few of his own. Both men
have nothing but admiration for each other, and Ondaatje was on the set of "The English Patient" much of the time.
For anyone interested in filmmaking, scriptwriting, adaptations, or just a good read, both the novel and the
screenplay will not disappoint.
If you're really interested in seeing how it originally read, you can look for the "Revised Draft: 28th August, 1995" version at screenplay websites and read it there. It's obviously an earlier draft with some interesting scenes and sequences that didn't make it into the film.
For example, the order of some scenes have changed. A pompous rival named Fenelon-Barnes who insists on riding camels to explore (and keeps a young sex slave girl tied up in his tent) is cut. There is also an interesting scene where an enraged Kip draws down on the Patient with a rifle after hearing about the Hiroshima blast.
The published version is the film you see. Both are worth reading if you're interested in how Anthony Minghella adapted the novel. Or if you just loved that movie.