English Patient, The (1996) Minghella’s Best Picture Oscar, Starring Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas

In 1996, the big Oscar-winning picture was the historical epic, “The English Patient,” an intelligent adaptation by Anthony Minghella of Michael Ondaatje’s novel about a mysterious man (Ralph Fiennes) who is badly wounded in a World War II plane crash in the African desert.

The story unfolds layer by layer. A Canadian nurse (played by French actress Juliette Binoche) tends him in an abandoned monastery in Italy and slowly his story emerges. Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas are perfectly matched in this passionate noirish romance about two people thrown together by chance during a tumultuous period.

John Seale’s striking photography draws in the viewer in its contrast between sensual images of an adulterous affair and jarring images of wartime brutality.

Upon winning Best Director, writer-director Minghella recalled: “Many people told me it was a novel that couldn’t be adapted. Every day I felt I was hanging by my fingernails. I was helped by a great team, a great crew, and many of those people have been acknowledged by the Academy. The Oscar was “vindication, due to the troubles of getting the film made,” to producer Saul Zaentz, who acknowledged Sydney Pollack’s help. After reading the script, Pollack “went out on a limb for us, and, finally, Harvey Weinstein listened to him.”

Oscar nominations: 12

Picture, produced by Saul Zaentz
Director: Anthony Minghella
Screenplay (Adapted): Minghella
Actor: Ralph Fiennes
Actress: Kristin Scott Thomas
Supporting Actress: Juliette Binoche
Cinematography: John Seale
Art direction-set decoration: Stuart Craig; Stephanie McMillan
Editing: Walter Murch
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Sound: Walter Murch, Mark Berger, David Parker, Chris Newman
Original Score: Gabriel Yared

Oscar awards: 9

All categories, but Screenplay Actor, and Actress. “Sling Blade” won the Adapted Screenplay Oscar; Geoffrey Rush the Best Actor for “Shine”; and Frances McDormand the Best Actress for “Fargo.”

Oscar Context

Sweeping most (nine) of the Oscars in 1996, “The English Patient” easily beating out the other four contenders: The American studio movie “Jerry Maguire” (the only Hollywood movie, and a comedy at that, in competition), the American indie “Fargo,” the British “Secrets and Lies,” and the Aussie “Shine.”