The English Patient  (1996) from  Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's notes in white:

Looking back on it only six years later, it seems incredible to many people that The English Patient was once honored with nine Oscars, including best picture and best director. As our essay on the worst Oscar winners indicates, its IMDb score doesn't make it the lowest-rated film ever to win Best Picture, but it isn't far off, and its rating continues to decline, so it may yet capture that dubious honor. I haven't researched this point, but it may be the only Oscar winner which is no longer rated in the top 20 for its year. (It is tied for 21st, see below). When stand-up comics play to younger audiences, "English Patient" is already a common punch-line for "overrated" or "some complete crap the old geezers and chicks like for reasons indeterminate", and that's a strong pillar upon which to build a reputation as a pretender.

It doesn't really deserve to be a symbol of an overrated movie. It's good in its way. Seinfeld's show pinned down the correct symbolism. This film represents polarization - people love it as the greatest romance they have seen in 40 years, or they hate it as a tedious, high-falutin', sap-fest. Seinfeld gave a little twist to the argument when he and his writers made the male, not the female, love the film, exclaiming aloud, "Now I know what love is". In contrast to that character (the affected Mr Peterman), the down-to-earth Elaine was so bored that she couldn't seem to pay attention to the film for more than a few minutes before needing something from the snack bar. Jerry Seinfeld may have twisted the gender roles in his interpretation, but he got the details exactly right. The people who hate this movie are shocked to find out that it won nine Oscars, equally shocked to find that the film has passionate defenders, and contemptuous of the taste and intelligence of the people who praise it so effusively. The people who love it hurl equal amounts of obloquy at its detractors, arguing that all the "cons" must be from little kids, or people too stupid to understand the multi-layered and non-sequential plot.  Neither are right, of course. They are not even saying whether it is good or bad. They are simply saying it is really their kind of movie, or it is really not. In the case of weepy love tragedies, people love them or despise them.

I thought it was a good old-fashioned film, beautifully photographed, but maybe not the kind of film that should have been winning "best picture" in the 1990's. It was a retro film, and is a niche offering most popular with older people, and especially women. Although not a smash hit, it was a solid performer at the box office because it was a strong entry in the "date picture" market, although I have a feeling it broke up more couples than it brought together.


Kristin Scott Thomas does a full frontal getting into then out of the bath, and breasts in a post sex scene. Juliette Binoche shows a breast in a brief dark sex scene.

The 1996 films were not especially outstanding, and The English Patient was actually a legitimate candidate for Best Picture. The other nominees were Shine, Secrets and Lies, Fargo and Jerry Maguire. The top unnominated films were Trainspotting, Sling Blade, Larry Flynt, and Breaking the Waves. I don't feel that English Patient was out of its league in that company. I would not have voted for it, but I can understand that people did so with the certainty of their convictions.

For the record, here is how IMDb voters rank the 1996 films as of now (November, 2002). Films highlighted in dark blue were Oscar's best picture nominees.


It seems to me that the film has gone in six years from overrated to underrated.


I did find some elements of the movie rather irritating:

1. Neither the author nor the characters in the film seem to know which side Hungary was on in WW2. There was a real Count Laszlo de Almasy (right), and he collaborated willingly with Axis powers in North Africa. The real Almasy, according to Laszlo Pathy, Hungarian consul general in Alexandria (writing in his journal), wanted to use a desert museum as a front for Nazi espionage. Its goal: the occupation of Egypt. And that was back in the mid 1930's. When the project was scotched in 1936, Almasy blamed Pathy and put his name on a list of arrests to be made when Nazi Field Marshal Erwin Rommel occupied the country. Almasy was awarded an Iron Cross by Rommel.

Hungary was a fascist dictatorship which was sympathetic to Nazi Germany from the beginning, and was eventually a member of the Axis. The other characters in the story don't seem to realize this, even though it would actually have been very important to them at the time. The real Almasy, for example, tried to work with the British, but was turned down because he was suspected from the start of being a Nazi spy, as just about any Hungarian would have been. Of course, all that doesn't really have much bearing on our evaluation of the movie, which does not pretend to be based closely on the real Almasy, but it is irksome because the entire historical context is completely misleading and misstated.

My point is not that the real Almasy was a Nazi sympathizer, but that the characters in the story should have and would have assumed that the fictional one was a German supporter because of his nationality (as people did in reality).  No Hungarian would have been trusted by the Allies. He had to be either an enemy or a traitor, and neither of those options would have encouraged the British to bond with him.

This has nothing to do with the film, but by the way, the real Almasy was also a homosexual, and his wartime lover was a German officer! Students, would it work as well as a gay love story between fascists? Discuss. Why the need to take a real person from history and change every important detail of his existence?  I wonder why the author didn't just make up a fictional name and make the character Dutch or Norwegian, people that actually worked closely with the British.

2. How in the hell did the musicians keep a straight face when they were recording that syrupy score?

3. Why was Willem Dafoe in this movie? Wasn't the story long enough? Was there an earlier draft in which his character served some purpose? (I haven't read the novel.)

Tuna's comments in yellow:

For all its awards, The English Patient is rated only 6.9 by men at IMDb, and 7.3 by women. In other words, it is a weepy estrogen-centric tragic love story. I have tried several times, and have never stayed awake through the entire 160 minutes of running time. It is beautifully photographed, but that doesn't sustain me for more than two and a half hours.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen letterbox, 1.85:1.

  • no meaningful features

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half to four stars. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4 (Top 10 of 1996), BBC 5/5, 4/5

  • The film was nominated for twelve Oscars, and won nine, including Best Picture and Best Director.

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: made for $27 million, it grossed $78 million in the USA, and $134 million overseas.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "C+++. The perfect example of a C+. People who like this kind of movie think it might be the best ever. People who hate this type of movie hate this one with a special passion. Paradoxically, this is both one of the most beloved and one of the most despised films in history". Tuna says, "This is decidedly not my kind of film, but the nudity was worthwhile. I suppose it is a B-, with some appeal to those who don't usually like this kind of film." Scoop rebuts, "maybe Tuna is right. I wasn't thinking of Scott-Thomas's full-frontal nudity when I wrote my comments. The beautiful female flesh does provide some crossover appeal for people who would not normally like romantic tragedies. Kristin could make the whole thing worthwhile if you had to sit through this because of someone in your wife's book club."

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