The English Patient (1996)

(On TV, March 2016) Revisiting Oscar-winning movies twenty years after the fact screams for reassessment: What is truly the best movie of that year? Has it aged well? Does it still warrant attention? At times, The English Patient seems like a kind of prestige middle-budget movie that has disappeared in the squeeze between low-budget independent films and tent-pole studio blockbusters: A film with the budget to credibly re-create an era of history, and comfortably deliver a story that plays heavily on emotional nuances. Here, we hear from an adventurer as he tells the story of his love affair with the wife of another man, set against the troubled backdrop of World War II in northern Africa. Ralph Fiennes excels in the title role, first as the “English patient”, burnt beyond recognition after a plane accident, but also, in flashbacks, as a dashing explorer who gets involved with a woman despite the dangers of such an affair. The English Patient is a long film, made even longer by an oft-maddening framing story that never feels as interesting as the other one. It’s competently presented on screen, showing the romance of the time as well as its dangers. It’s tragic, of course, doing its best to feel even more important thanks to this tragedy. And twenty years later, it has survived relatively well. As a historical drama, it doesn’t suffer too much from less-than-cutting-edge special effects, and the star-studded casting is even remarkable today for showing a number of respected thespians as their younger selves. It had sweep, scope, dramatic irony and tragic heartbreak. Twenty years ago, that was enough to get you two handfuls of Oscars. Today, The English Patient remains a film worth seeing.

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