There are more than three kinds of people in this world, but for the sake simplicity and thematic coherence, let’s break everyone down as belonging to four separate and distinct categories. First you have those people who loved The English Patient as a book and so absolutely despise Anthony Minghella’s Oscar-heavy film adaptation. Then you have those people who think that Anthony Minghella managed to take what was essentially a cure for insomnia in the form of a book and make from its best parts a movie that is one of the textbook examples of how the book is not necessarily always better. The third category are those who never read the book and find the movie to be a cure for insomnia. And the fourth category? Hardly worth mentioning at all: this is the group that thinks James Cameron’s Titanic is the greatest romantic epic of the 1990s. Well, you were warned that the fourth category is hardly worth mentioning.
Those who think the film adaptation of The English Patient are entitled to opinion, of course, but it is worth mentioning that film adaptation of a book is by definition an entirely different beast than the book itself. That being said, the film version is one of the most literary pieces of cinema ever released into the mainstream. Which, of course, could go far to explaining why so many people fit into that third category: watching The English Patient has all the seductive qualities inherent in sitting down to the pleasurable experience of getting lost for a long time in a book. And yet, that literary experience is simply not the equal of actually getting lost for days or weeks inside a novel, which explain the first category. Then there are those who have never cracked open a book for pleasure in their lives and that about covers the explanation of the existence of the category capable of thinking Titanic is classic and timeless love story.
Perhaps the oddest thing about those who despite the film that was made from their beloved novel by Michael Ondaatje is that the screenplay which departs significantly from the book in many ways was not the result of one of those decision were the author was essentially paid to get lost. Ondaatje was brought in right from the beginning to work closely with Anthony Minghella on transforming his highly literary novel into an unusually literary script. So anyone who loves the book and hates the movie needs to understand that part of what they hate is the fault of the man who wrote the book they love. For those who love the movie whether they read the book or not, an enormous amount of credit needs to go to producer Saul Zaentz and Miramax Films. Zaentz stuck by his guns and refused to cast the actress that 20th Century Fox demanded be given the role of Katherine Clifton as insurance against box office disappointment. Fox execs were convinced that casting Demi Moore in the role would guarantee a bigger box office return than Kristin Scott Thomas, whom Zaentz insisted on casting.
The stalemate eventually result in Fox actually pulling out on the deal, almost dooming the production until Miramax stepped in to take up the slack. As for the impact on its box office success, without the salary for Moore figured in, The English Patient cost roughly 27 million dollars to make and earned more than 230 million dollars. As for Demi Moore, no movie she’s appeared in since that time has made anywhere even remotely close to that figure with the except of Disney’s animated Hunchback of Notre Dame and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
Kristin Scott Thomas, meanwhile, would go on to be nominated for Best Actress for every major film award handed out while the film itself would claim 9 of the 12 Academy Awards for which it was nominated as well as winning top honors as the year’s best film at the Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards. Ralph Fiennes, tackling the exceptionally complex central character of Count László Almásy, however, was beaten out for an Oscar for the second time in his career by an actor giving a notably less visceral performance playing a character requiring exponentially less range. Perhaps most amazing honor of all was The English Patient being chosen by the American Film Institute as the 56th most romantic American movie the first 100 years of cinema despite actor Willem Dafoe and editor Water Murch being the only major creative contributors to the film to actually be American. Of course, even more astounding is Titanic ending up 19 spots ahead of The English Patient on the same list, but that’s another story entirely.