Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient (1996)

Rarely did a movie deserve the Academy Awards as much as The English Patient. It is one of the most beautiful war romances that I have ever seen. Or, to be accurate, two of the most beautiful romances as the movie tells two parallel stories. Based on Michael Ondaatje’s wonderful eponymous novel, The English Patient combines everything that an accomplished movie needs. Beautiful pictures, a touching story, an intriguing plotline, wonderful music, great characters  and outstanding actors. This is one of the movies that I have watched at least three times and every time I discovered another layer. It is surprisingly rich and, I would argue, flawless.

They call him “The English Patient” (Ralph Fiennes), the mysterious man, they rescued from a shot down airplane in the desert during WWII. He is heavily burned, will probably not survive. They bring him to Italy and a young nurse, Hana (Juliette Binoche), volunteers to stay back and take care of him. She moves with him into an abandoned villa. He doesn’t know his identity but Hana finds a notebook and with its help the memory returns slowly and the story unfolds in flashbacks.

They are not alone for long, Kip (Naveen Andrews), a young Sikh and the thief David Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe) join her. Kip is part of a bomb disposal unit and the growing love between Hana and him is the second love story in this movie. It is beautiful but by far less tragic than that between the English patient and his lover. Caravaggio adds even another story line to the already rich plot. He is someone who thinks he knows who the badly burned man is. In fact he is sure that the patient is someone who wronged him once.

The flashbacks show us the mysterious patient, the Hungarian Count Almásy, 1930 in the Sahara desert. He is a mapmaker of the Royal Geographical Society. At the beginning of WWII he is still in the Sahara where he meets the British agent Geoffrey Clifton (Colin Firth) and his beautiful wife Catherine  (Kristin Scott Thomas). Despite their fighting the attraction, they fall in love. They have an affair that ends abruptly when Catherine breaks it off. They meet again later and the following events make this probably one of the most tragic movie romances of all time.

The figure of Count Almásy is actually based on a real person, only his story was a different one.

The nurse Hana is certainly one of the most appealing nurses in any war movie. The gentleness and devotion with which she takes care of the dying man is touching. I am sure that there were many nurses like her in different wars and they deserve an homage.  I have a great deal of admiration for these courageous, disinterested women.

The intensity of the interwoven stories, the mysteries, the wonderful settings (the desert, Italy during the war, the Italian villa), the gripping part of the bomb defusing, all this together make this an absolute must-see.  Last but not least I’d like to mention the beautiful score by Gabriel Yared (you can listen to it here).

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Danger UXB (1979) A Clever British TV Series about a Bomb Squad During the Blitz

I would say that this British TV series is one of the most realistic stories ever told about London during the Blitz and the dangerous duty of defusing the numerous unexploded bombs that hit the country. Danger UXB focuses on a young lieutenant, Brian Ash (Anthony Andrews), appointed to a bomb squad. His squad defuses all sorts of unexploded German bombs. This is highly stressful and very difficult. There are so many different types of bombs with different types of fuses. Magnetic, movement detectors, chemical reaction, clock work and time delay fuses. The bombs are found in many different places such as  schools, gardens, back yards, living rooms,  a night club, a factory  which gives ample opportunity to tell side stories and show the lives of ordinary people during this time. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to be bombed every single night. The series manages to give a very good feel for the danger of this line of work.  I would say Danger UXB provides a rare combination of instruction and entertainment, combining historical accuracy with tales of everyday lives and the story of one young officer, his work , his dealings with fellow officers and commanders and  his love life. British TV is a great source for realistic historical series and movies. I haven’t seen Piece of Cake yet but it is sitting here, waiting to be watched. Danger UXB is far less known. I highly recommend it. I think it is also interesting to compare it to the ubiquitous The Hurt Locker (see my post on The Hurt Locker) and see the difference between a bomb squad now and then.

I attached a video for you, where you can see that each episode initiates with original footage to enhance accuracy. Unfortunately this video has an addition to it but it is the best I could come up with. I couldn’t find any trailer only some fan videos but they had insufferable music.